Minister lifts order to halt Okinawa Marine base relocation work
TOKYO — The fisheries minister on Monday notified the Okinawa prefectural government of his decision to suspend Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga's instruction to halt preparatory work for the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within Okinawa Prefecture.
Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi made the decision after studying an appeal from the Defense Ministry, which argued that a halt to the ongoing seabed work to prepare for land reclamation would delay the construction work tied to the planned relocation of the U.S. base from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago. The ministry said such a delay would leave unchanged the dangers posed by the Futenma air base.
"After taking into account both [the claims by the Defense Ministry and the governor], I made a decision on the matter. The Okinawa prefectural government's instruction will be suspended," Hayashi said at a press conference at the Diet Building on Monday morning.
Criticizing the minister's announcement, speaking to reporters in Naha, Onaga said: "It's hard to believe the decision was made fairly and neutrally. It's truly disappointing."
"I will knuckle down and respond to this in keeping with the will of the Okinawans," the governor added.
The governor said earlier last week that he may withdraw permission to crush reefs, which is necessary for the major construction work for the relocation plan.
Last week, in response to the Okinawa governor's instruction to halt preparatory work for the relocation, the Defense Ministry submitted written requests to the fisheries minister to examine and suspend the instruction until an investigation was concluded, based on the administrative appeal law.
The written statement explaining Hayashi's decision said, "Halting the ongoing work will result in grave and irreparable damage, such as damage caused by the continued risk of accidents and noise pollution and an adverse impact on the relationship of trust between Japan and the United States."
The statement added: "The Defense Ministry urged that it is necessary to avoid such damage, and its appeal is reasonable."
The fisheries minister rejected the claim by the prefectural government that "the central government is not supposed to lodge an administrative appeal [against a prefectural government instruction]." His statement said: "In the same way as a private individual, the central government needs to obtain permission from a governor even when the central government serves as a project operator. Therefore the central government has standing as an applicant [for an administrative appeal]."
Hayashi will begin a full deliberation on the Defense Ministry's request for nullification and an examination of Onaga's instruction. The handling of the concrete blocks that the Defense Ministry has installed on the seabed will likely be the main point.
Onaga has also claimed that the Defense Ministry installed the blocks outside the area stated in the former governor's authorization for crushing reefs. The Defense Ministry said it was told that it was unnecessary to obtain prefectural government approval for the installation.
If Hayashi accepts the Defense Ministry's claim, Onaga's instruction will formally become invalid. However, with no limit to the examination period, it will likely take a few months to finalize the decision.