NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Okinawa acknowledged Thursday receiving a key report related to the contentious relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Delivering the environmental impact assessment report to the prefecture drew public attention last month after protesters blocked its submission.
The Defense Ministry managed to get the report through by delivering it in the predawn hours when few opponents were around.
With the official receipt dated Dec. 28, Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who wants the U.S. base moved out of Okinawa altogether, now has until March 27 to present his opinion, which can include asking for revisions in the report, to the central government.
Tensions were high in the last week of December as the ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau attempted to submit the report to the prefecture only to be obstructed by throngs of protesters.
The base opponents initially succeeded in blocking a courier van from delivering the lengthy document Dec. 27, but ministry officials, to avoid further confrontation, eventually dropped it off at a guardroom at the prefectural office at around 4 a.m. the next day.
Critics called it an “underhanded” tactic.
The number of copies of the report fell short of that required by a local ordinance, but the prefecture finally acknowledged receipt after the ministry sent more Thursday.
The prefecture acknowledged receiving the part of the report that deals with a land-reclamation project in the Henoko coastal area in Nago, where the Futenma base is expected to be relocated.
People opposed to the report’s delivery held a sit-in at the prefectural government building up until Wednesday, but they weren’t around Thursday.
In a news conference in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, the government’s top spokesman, voiced hope that the “procedures will move forward without further trouble.”
Submission of the report marks one of the final stages in the assessment procedure, which began in 2007, related to a Japan-U.S. agreement on relocating the base from densely populated Ginowan to the more remote coastal area in Nago.
Many residents of Okinawa, which has long shouldered the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan, remain opposed to the relocation plan and are demanding that the base be moved outside of the prefecture.
Nakaima, who as governor has the authority to grant permission for the land reclamation, has repeatedly said he will not give the green light, making the outlook for the relocation far from certain despite the submission of the environmental impact report.