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Test drilling marks start of Futenma replacement

Date Posted: 2004-11-26

After months of preparation and delays caused by protesters and demonstrators, work is finally under way toward the new civilian-military airport at Henoko.

The government earlier this week launched construction of a platform at a seabed drilling site off Nago in northern Okinawa. Many residents oppose the project, and have conducted demonstrations both on shore and on the water at the proposed site since spring to oppose the airport's construction. The airport is intended as the new base for the U.S. Marine Air Wing that will relocate from the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan. Some protested from boats, while others attempted to block vehicles carrying construction equipment.

The Naha Defense Facilities Administration Bureau, which is running the project, says drilling will take place in 63 locations to determine the strength of the site and to gather other data. The bureau said crews will drill holes between 11 ~ 14 cm in diameter into the seabed to an average depth of 25 meters.

Scaffolding equipment was moved into place over the past several weeks, paving the way for crews to go beneath the water and set piers to support the operations. Opponents in canoes remained active in trying to block their efforts. Opposition leaders call the project an “illegal and unfair drilling survey”. Scuffles have taking place between workers and the demonstrators, with at least several incidents of interference. In one case, a DFAB diver made threatening gestures at a demonstrator; in another, demonstrators attacked the scaffolding tower and climbed it just as equipment was being pulled up.

A salvage barge placing a pylon for the project placed a two-meter-wide metal footplate on live coral beneath the waters, triggering another round of protests. Natsume Taira of the Peace Civic Liaison says they witnessed the destruction of the coral as they monitored the DFAB project. The barge placed four pylons and footings to support the drilling platform.

DFAB says 95% of the coral in the area is dead, but promised to check to insure their divers and salvage crews were being prudent in placing equipment.

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