Japan to start offshore work at planned new Okinawa airbase

Kyodo

The government plans to start maritime construction work as early as next week at the planned relocation site for a key U.S. airbase in Okinawa, a government source said Tuesday.

The move, which is likely to trigger further local opposition, comes after the government’s resumption in late December of land construction work at U.S. Marines Corps Camp Schwab located adjacent to the relocation site.

The maritime work is part of the central government’s plan to relocate the operations of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from densely populated Ginowan to the Henoko coastal area in Nago, farther north on Okinawa Island.

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga has vowed to stop the plan, reflecting the calls of many Okinawa residents who want the Futenma base to be moved outside the prefecture. Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

The planned maritime construction work involves placing more than 200 concrete blocks weighing around 10 tons each undersea to hold screens used to prevent the spread of debris and sediment.

The government plans to soon dispatch ships carrying the concrete blocks as well as vessels to conduct undersea surveys, the source said.

After starting relocation work in the Henoko area in October 2015, the central government suspended it in March last year after reaching an agreement with Okinawa via court mediation as part of efforts to break an impasse between the two parties.

But the central government resumed land work on Dec. 27 after the Supreme Court ruled against the Okinawa government in a case brought by the central government in July.

Onaga may resort to other means to hamper the project, such as by refusing to give permission for moving coral reefs in the land reclamation area.

The central government has maintained that the current relocation plan, crafted under an accord with the United States, is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base without undermining the perceived deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance.