TOKYO -- The government has decided to expand its controversial reclamation work to relocate a U.S. military base in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa to a new area as early as March, Defense Ministry officials said.
The Okinawa Defense Bureau is poised to inform the Okinawa Prefectural Government of the decision later in January at the earliest. The prefectural government is strongly against the landfill work in the Henoko district off the coast of the city of Nago.
The Japanese and U.S. governments agreed in 1996 to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan in the same prefecture, but fierce local opposition has delayed the relocation plan.
The new area where the government wants to start landfill work in March is west of the current reclamation site, which workers began filling with sand and soil in December last year. About 20 percent of the work at the first site, which spans 6.3 hectares, has been completed, and is expected to be finished by the end of April. The second area, which spans 33 hectares, is now being surveyed and its seawalls being repaired.
A senior Defense Ministry official said the second phase of the reclamation plan will be "taking place as expected." As the government plans to reclaim a total of some 160 hectares, the completion of the second area would mean a quarter of the reclamation work would be over.
The central government wants to advance the landfill work as much as possible before a prefectural referendum planned for Feb. 24, to strengthen perception that the project is a "done deal." But the Okinawa Prefectural Government is bent on preventing the landfill work, and plans to take harsh measures against an application to be submitted from the Okinawa Defense Bureau to change its construction plan and accommodate the second phase of the reclamation work.
(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)