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Concrete blocks laid off Okinawa coast signal start of serious work on U.S. Marine base

A crane on a construction barge lowers a concrete block into the sea off the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on the morning of Feb. 7, 2017. (Mainichi)

NAGO, Okinawa -- The construction of a new U.S. Marine facility in this city's Henoko district kicked into high gear on the morning of Feb. 7 as the Japanese Defense Ministry began laying concrete blocks on the seabed just off the coast.

The controversial new facility is being built as a replacement for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also on Okinawa's main island. The concrete blocks are part of an anti-pollution cordon being built around the construction project, which includes filling in a swath of coastal waters for a new runway.

The concrete block cordon is expected to take two to three months to complete. The Japanese government will then start work on a seawall as early as April or May, followed by land reclamation for the runway. All told, the government is aiming to complete construction in five years.

According to the ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau, workers began lowering the concrete blocks into the sea from a construction barge with a crane at 9:25 a.m.

The concrete block barrier is intended to prevent earth and sand used in the land reclamation process from diffusing into the wider ocean. The number and weight of the concrete blocks has been altered from the original building plan, prompting the Okinawa Prefectural Government -- which has been fighting to prevent the central government from building the Henoko base -- on Feb. 6 to call for an explanation from the Okinawa Defense Bureau and demand that the offshore construction be halted.

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