Japan to hasten construction of U.S. base in Okinawa with large rock delivery

Kyodo

The government will attempt to accelerate the construction of seawalls at the planned site of a controversial U.S. air base in Okinawa by delivering rocks by sea Tuesday, according to government sources.

The decision will likely draw the further ire of the prefectural government, residents and environmental campaigners opposed to the relocation of the Futenma base from the city of Ginowan to the coastal area near Henoko.

Ships delivering the rocks will dock alongside existing seawalls that are serving as a pier on the northern side of the area to be filled, the sources said Monday.

The material will be used to construct a seawall on the southwestern side of the area, where work started earlier this month, according to the sources.

Under the Japan-U.S. plan, the Futenma airfield is expected to be relocated from the crowded residential area of Ginowan to the site in the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago in the northern part of Okinawa’s main island.

The move adds to the ongoing controversy around the base as Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces based in Japan and many locals want them moved out of the prefecture altogether.

The Defense Ministry has insisted that transporting the materials by sea will reduce environmental impacts such as air pollution and noise.

But Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a vocal opponent of the base relocation, has criticized the central government as “dishonest” because he was not briefed about the operation in previous opportunities.

The decision comes despite the prefectural government’s administrative guidance asking the defense bureau to suspend transport of the materials by sea until a consensus had been reached.

The central and Okinawa governments are fighting a court battle after Onaga filed a fresh lawsuit in July seeking a halt in construction at the Futenma base relocation site.

Tokyo and Washington agreed on the return of the land for the contentious base in 1996 and announced in 2006 a road map to realigning the U.S. military in Japan, which included relocating the airfield to Henoko.