NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. - Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Tuesday officially revoked the approval his predecessor issued to the central government for landfill work to replace a key U.S. military base within the prefecture, making the stalemate over the relocation plan likely to end up in court.
“It was recognized that there are defects in the approval. We decided that rescinding it is reasonable,” Onaga said at a news conference at the Okinawa Prefectural Government office building in Naha.
At issue is a controversial plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, a coastal region of Nago, from its current location in densely populated Ginowan.
The issue has long pitted the central government against local officials and residents who demand the base be moved outside of Okinawa.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the central government is considering taking legal action to suspend the governor’s revocation.
In a separate news conference, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said the central government will “promptly take action” to ask the infrastructure minister to suspend the revocation, although this will not take place Tuesday.
The central government is planning to start building a replacement facility for the Futenma base this fall.
Suga said the central government found “no legal flaws” in the approval for landfill work given in 2013 by former Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.
“Revoking the approval is extremely regrettable as it ignores the efforts made so far by officials in Okinawa and the central government to eliminate the risks posed by the Futenma base,” Suga said, adding that construction work will continue as planned while taking “utmost care of the environment.”
Onaga, who notified the Okinawa Defense Bureau, the local office of the Defense Ministry in charge of the reclamation work, about the revocation Tuesday, reiterated his pledge “to take all possible measures so a new base will not be built in Henoko.”
Onaga’s decision came after the central and Okinawa governments failed to reach a compromise over the relocation of the Futenma base in their monthlong consultations ending in early September to defuse tensions over the issue.
The governor was elected last November on a platform of opposition to the contentious plan, and advocates relocation of the base outside Okinawa, as he and many local residents are seeking to reduce the burden on their prefecture, which has long hosted the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.