NAHA--Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima is facing criticism for breaking a campaign promise after he approved relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to reclaimed land off the coast of Henoko in Nago.
Nakaima, who had vowed to work to relocate the base outside of the prefecture, met with high-ranking prefectural officials on the morning of Dec. 27 before deciding to accept the central government's land reclamation application.
Japan and the United States initially agreed to relocate the air station elsewhere from its current location in the heavily populated city of Ginowan in 1996.
The central government submitted the application to reclaim approximately 160 hectares of land off the coast of Henoko in March to relocate the air station. The project is expected to take five years and 21 million cubic meters of dirt and sand, which will be transported from 15 locations in seven prefectures to fill in the coastal area.
The Okinawa Defense Bureau received the formal approval before 11 a.m.
Among the conditions demanded to approve the application was the establishment of an organization to implement environmental protection measures.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine has publicly expressed opposition to the project. The prefectural government's environmental and lifestyle department had previously raised concerns about whether environmental protection measures would be adequately enforced.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe persuaded Nakaima to approve the government’s application after a Dec. 25 meeting.
In that meeting, Abe indicated his administration would take steps to respond to requests from the Okinawa prefectural government to halt operations at the Futenma base within five years; to take possession of land from the U.S. Marine Corps that is currently occupied by the Makiminato logistics base within seven years; and to move the training of the controversial Osprey tilt rotor transport aircraft, which are currently stationed at Futenma, to locations outside Okinawa Prefecture.
When Nakaima won re-election to a second term in 2010, he had campaigned on a pledge to relocate the base outside of Okinawa. At the time, he repeatedly said that there was a low probability of relocating the runway to Henoko.
Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the Okinawa prefectural assembly supported relocating the base to Henoko while their coalition partners, New Komeito, called for rejecting the land reclamation application.
There is still the possibility the reclamation work could be delayed depending on the outcomes of the Nago mayoral election, scheduled for January, and the Okinawa gubernatorial election, which will be held in fall.
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