The Supreme Court on Thursday backed a lower court’s rejection of a petition from the Okinawa Prefectural Government to block landfill work for the planned relocation of a U.S. military base within the prefecture.
In the lawsuit, Okinawa sought to revive its withdrawal of approval for landfill work off the Henoko coastal district to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in the prefecture.
The withdrawal was revoked by the land minister in 2019, following a complaint made by the Defense Ministry under the administrative complaint review law. The prefecture argued that the ministry had no right to make such an appeal.
At the top court’s First Petty Bench, presiding Judge Takuya Miyama supported the ruling by the Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court that the land minister’s decision was “not subject to lawsuits.”
The southernmost prefecture has also filed a separate lawsuit against the land minister’s decision with the Naha District Court.
In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the central government in a lawsuit aimed at invalidating Okinawa’s cancellation of the landfill approval.
Following Thursday’s ruling, the central government reiterated its commitment to the current Futenma relocation plan.
“We’ll make all-out efforts to realize the full return of the Futenma air station as soon as possible,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.
Speaking to reporters, Defense Minister Taro Kono said, “We’ll proceed with the landfill work while giving in-depth explanations to win the understanding of local people.”
The central government aims to submit an application to the prefectural government to make changes to the project as early as April following the discovery of a soft seabed in Henoko.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki reiterated his opposition to the relocation plan. The current situation in which the central government is going ahead with the landfill work while ignoring the people of Okinawa’s opposition is “unacceptable.”
But the governor may find himself in a tough spot depending on the outcome of the prefectural assembly election in June.