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Okinawa Gov. says Japan gov't continuing landfill work for 1 yr 'trampling on democracy'

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki opposes the central government's policy of continuing landfill work off the coast of Henoko in the city of Nago at a regular press conference held in the Okinawa Prefecture capital of Naha on Dec. 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Takayasu Endo)
The coastal area of Henoko in the city of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, is seen from Mainichi Shimbun aircraft on Dec. 10, 2019, as landfill work is underway for the construction of a military base to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki condemned the central government's continued land reclamation work off the coast of Henoko in the northern Okinawan city of Nago despite the results of a prefecture-wide referendum in late February, in which more than 70% of voters objected to the landfill work.

He spoke at a regular press conference on Dec. 13, held a day before the first anniversary of the day the central government began to dump soil and sand into the sea in preparation for the construction of a replacement for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the central prefectural city of Ginowan.

Tamaki, a staunch opponent of the base relocation within the southernmost prefecture, said, "Ignoring the will of the Okinawans by pushing ahead and dumping earth and sand (into the sea) is an act of trampling on democracy and eroding local autonomy."

Based on the Okinawa Prefectural Government's calculations, the amount of soil and sand unloaded into the sea remains at about 205,000 cubic meters, whereas the government plans to fill up some 20.62 million cubic meters of the sea off Henoko.

Tamaki pointed out that "the overall progress rate of the landfill work is no more than about 1%" and emphasized, "Under the current circumstances, there is absolutely no hopelessness among the Okinawan people."

On Dec. 14 last year, the central government began land reclamation by dumping sand and soil into a roughly 6.3-hectare area of water south of U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Henoko. In March, the government started landfill work of an approximately 33-hectare section of water to the west.

However, due to typhoons and other factors, the landfill work that was expected to take about six months to finish has fallen behind schedule. According to the Ministry of Defense, the progress rate stood at around 70% in the waters south of Camp Schwab and about 10% in the waters west of Camp Schwab as of the end of November.

The central government's response to the soft seabed spreading east of Camp Schwab will be a key point of contention.

Large-scale soil improvement work where approximately 77,000 sand piles are driven into the seabed is required, and the state plans to file an application with the Okinawa Prefectural Government as early as after the New Year for permission to change the reclamation plan under the Act on Reclamation of Publicly-owned Water Surface, based on suggestions offered by an expert panel looking into technical issues.

However, Gov. Tamaki says the design change is problematic as "there may be an uneven depression of land after construction is completed." As he is poised to reject the change to the landfill plan, the Okinawa Prefectural Government and the central government may possibly fight the issue in court.

(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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