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Okinawa residents take government to court over proposed new airport

Date Posted: 2004-12-30

Fishermen and Nago area residents have taken their objections to a new airport into the courtroom.

They’re opposed to pre-construction environmental drilling surveys now taking place off the northern Okinawa coast, and have moved from staging sit-in’s to requesting legal action. The government plans to build an offshore airport to serve both military and civilian interests.

It would replace the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan. Futenma operates both fixed wing aircraft and many helicopters over the crowded city.

The project is being overseen by the Naha Defense Facilities Administration Bureau. The DFAB has tried unsuccessfully to restrict the protesters, who’ve often used boats to get at the drilling sites and disrupt activities. In several cases, demonstrators have been injured in confrontations with workers. Others have used vehicles to block work.

The suit, filed at the Naha District Court, asks that construction operations be suspended and the airport plan ended, according to Toshio Ikemiyagi, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs. "The government has failed to recognize what the residents have to say about adverse effects the construction may cause to the environment," he said. "It should explain clearly in court."

The complaint alleges that the drilling causes environmental damage, including water and noise pollution. The fishermen and residents say it also interferes on the human and fisheries rights of the plaintiffs, the complaint says.

The site is a habitat of the dugong, a sea mammal designated as a protected species by the government.

The drilling is currently planned for 63 sites, in order to determine the strength of the seabed for the facility. Other data is also being gathered for DFAB use. The process involves drilling 11~14cm holes into the seabed, going as much as 25 meters into the strata.

The United States agreed in 1996 to return the land used for the Futenma base and relocate the base's helicopter operations. In 2002, the government and Okinawa Prefecture agreed to build the military-civilian airport on reclaimed land off the Henoko district of Nago.

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