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More seawall construction at site of new US base despite presence of endangered coral

The Henoko district in the northern Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago, where reclamation work is under way for the construction of a new replacement base for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, is pictured here in a photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun aircraft on Oct. 12, 2017. (Mainichi)

NAGO, Okinawa -- The Ministry of Defense began building a new seawall along the coast of the Henoko district here on Nov. 6, as part of its reclamation work to build a replacement base for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the southern Okinawa prefectural city of Ginowan.

    The construction that began most recently is on the southwest side of the site set to be reclaimed for the new base. While the Defense Ministry has been carrying out construction of bank reinforcements on the north side of the site since April of this year, it is expected to speed up its construction of seawalls so that it can proceed to pour soil and sand into the ocean to build a landfill.

    There are expected to be strong objections from Okinawa Prefecture toward the central government's heavy-handed approach.

    The seawalls on which the Defense Ministry began work on Nov. 6 are K1, which constitutes the outer southwestern border of the planned reclamation site and will measure approximately 215 meters, and N5, an approximately 270-meter-long bank reinforcement that separates the K1 seawall from the inner reclamation area. Until now, the Defense Ministry had been working on other projects in the area, such as building temporary roads on which construction trucks could travel.

    Porites okinawensis, a type of coral on the Japanese Environment Ministry's endangered species red list of marine creatures, has been found in the waters where the latest seawall construction work has begun. In October, the Defense Ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau put in a request with the Okinawa Prefectural Government for special permission to collect the coral for transplantation. And while that permission has yet to be given, the Okinawa Defense Bureau claims that beginning seawall construction prior to coral transplantation will not have any effect on the coral.

    Meanwhile, the Okinawa Prefectural Government in July filed a suit against the central government at the Naha District Court, demanding an injunction against the construction of the U.S. military facility, and is to consider the central government's request for gathering and transplanting coral with caution. Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga is expected to rescind approval for reclamation along the coast of Henoko that was given to the central government by his predecessor, but he has not yet indicated when he will make that move.

    The seawall that the Defense Ministry began work on in April is called K9, on the northern side of the reclamation site. It is planned to stretch some 315 meters, of which around 100 meters has already been completed.

    In the House of Representatives election held in October, three successful candidates in Okinawa Prefecture's four single-seat constituencies fought on an anti-Henoko-base platform.

    The latest construction work began during U.S. President Donald Trump's first visit to Japan. "Japan is trying to further its alliance with President Trump regarding the situation surrounding North Korea, but if this develops into war, it will be dangerous. Now is the time Japan should be seeking peace. The construction (in Henoko) goes against that," said Hiroshi Ashitomi, 71, co-leader of Heri kichi hantai kyogikai (Council opposed to the construction of military helicopter bases).

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