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Okinawa governor to retract approval for landfill work for US base transfer

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga reads out the peace declaration during a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Battle of Okinawa, in Itoman, Okinawa Prefecture, on June 23, 2018. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga is set to retract his predecessor's approval of land reclamation work off the coast of the Henoko district of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the area, it has been learned.

Onaga has decided to withdraw approval for the landfill work given by former Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima before the central government brings in soil to the sea as early as Aug. 17 as part of the relocation work.

The Okinawa governor will announce the decision as early as next week and notify the Ministry of Defense's Okinawa Defense Bureau, the undertaker of the relocation project, that the prefectural government will hold a hearing over the issue.

Preparations for the landfill work are already well underway, with the Okinawa Defense Bureau completing work to surround part of the waters to the south of Henoko with seawalls on July 19.

Calls had been mounting from those opposing transfer of the Futenma airstrip from the Okinawa Prefecture city of Ginowan to Henoko for the governor to retract the ex-governor's reclamation approval at an early stage. Onaga apparently decided that he needed to move ahead to thwart the relocation before the central government's injection of soil into the sea, ahead of the Okinawa gubernatorial election slated for this coming November.

The Okinawa Prefectural Government is set to withdraw Nakaima's green light for the landfill work on the grounds that the Okinawa Defense Bureau violated points of note by continuing construction work while failing to take sufficient measures to protect the environment in the area.

As it is said to take around three weeks for the hearing for the Okinawa Defense Bureau and other necessary procedures to be completed, the governor's formal withdrawal of his predecessor's landfill approval is likely to come shortly before Aug. 17, the planned date for the soil injection.

While the retraction of the approval will temporarily halt the construction work due to the loss of its legal grounds, the central government is expected to file for the suspension of execution with a court or other bodies to invalidate the retraction.

For the Okinawa governor to invalidate the landfill work approval, there are two ways -- through nullification of the approval when there were legal problems with the screening process prior to the approval, and through retraction of the approval on the grounds that the undertaker of the project violated rules.

Onaga revoked his predecessor's approval for landfill work in October 2015, but the Supreme Court ruled that the nullification was illegal, finalized its decision in December 2016. Then in March 2017, Onaga pledged to retract the reclamation approval.

(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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