NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga is considering rejecting the state’s plan to transplant corals from waters off a planned U.S. base construction site in the northern part of Okinawa Island to another location, in the latest move to thwart the construction, a prefectural official said Tuesday.
The strategy not to give the green light is a way for Onaga to exercise his authority as governor and block the building of a replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on reclaimed land in the Henoko coastal area of Nago, the official said.
Onaga is looking to take that step in case he loses a legal battle with the central government in the Supreme Court over the contentious base relocation, the official said. The Naha branch of Fukuoka High Court is set to issue a ruling on Sept. 16.
In line with an agreement with the United States, the central government has been pushing for relocating the Futenma operations from a crowded residential district in Ginowan — to remove the risks posed by the base to nearby residents — to the less densely populated area in Nago, both on Okinawa Island.
But opposition from the prefecture and residents in Okinawa remains strong as they cite the prefecture’s longtime burden of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Also, another issue between the central and local governments is the environmental impact of the relocation.
Having conducted an environmental assessment of the reclamation project, the central government is now planning to transplant the corals to a different place that has a similar environment.
The transplantation will require the approval of the governor, who will decide from the standpoint of environmental conservation.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made it clear in a Diet session in March last year that “coral reefs that could disappear due to reclamation work will be transplanted to an appropriate place.”
Should Onaga disapprove of the coral transplantation, the central government is likely to criticize Okinawa for not considering the environment, but the prefecture plans instead to make a strong case to the public against the bigger environmental destruction that could be caused by the base construction work, the official said.
The prefecture also aims to prevent the reclamation work by spending time listening to experts’ opinions on the coral transplantation, according to the official.
How the relocation issue will play out in the courts remains uncertain.
The legal tussle over the base relocation began when the central government filed a lawsuit with the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court, demanding Onaga retract his decision to revoke the permission his predecessor had given for land-fill work in the area.
This prompted a countersuit by the prefectural government. The battle was then put on hold after a court-mediated settlement was struck in March, whereby the government and Okinawa Prefecture were told to hold talks on the issue and abide by future final court decisions.
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