The Okinawa prefectural government will file a fresh lawsuit against the central government next month to seek suspension of the ongoing construction work for the relocation of a U.S. air base within the southern island prefecture, the governor said Wednesday.
The move will reignite a legal tussle between the central and local governments, long at odds over the plan to relocate U.S. Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, a crowded residential area, to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago, both within Okinawa.
The central government began building seawalls for a planned replacement facility for the Futenma base amid local protests in late April, four months after the Okinawa government was defeated in legal wrangling at the Supreme Court.
Under a plan to transfer the air functions of the Futenma base to the site adjacent to the Marines’ Camp Schwab, the central government is scheduled to reclaim some 157 hectares of land in waters off the Henoko area and construct V-shaped runways.
“The government is in great haste to go ahead with reclamation work without regard (for Okinawa) and achieve a fait accompli, but base construction is absolutely unacceptable,” Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga said in a press conference.
Onaga said his government plans to submit a bill, which is needed to file the lawsuit, to the prefectural assembly when it convenes later this month. The bill is expected to clear the assembly.
The prefectural government also plans to file for an injunction to block the construction work even before the court hands down a ruling.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine told reporters that both the envisioned lawsuit and injunction could provide a way to halt the landfill work.
Opposition remains strong in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan. The local community has demanded the removal of the Futenma base from the prefecture altogether.
Local residents are also concerned that the landfill work will have a huge impact on the marine environment in the sea area which has coral reefs and is a habitat of the endangered dugong.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended the government’s decision in proceeding with reclamation work.
“The government sees absolutely no problem” in its action, the top government spokesman said in a news conference.
The central government started reclamation work without securing new permission from the governor. The permit expired at the end of March, but it says there is no need for a new one as the fishing rights in the Henoko area have already been extinguished through legal procedures.
But the prefecture has argued that the fishing rights have not lapsed since the governor’s approval was not issued, and will argue that the central government is acting illegally.
Last December, the top court ruled in favor of the central government, saying it was “illegal” for Onaga to revoke his predecessor’s approval for landfill work required for the relocation.