Okinawa dugong plaintiffs file new action in US court to stop construction of air base in Henoko

August 2, 2014 Ryukyu Shimpo

Environmental groups in Japan and the United States and the plaintiffs of the Okinawa dugong lawsuit filed a new action with the San Francisco Federal District Court on July 3. The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of the United States requires the government to protect cultural heritage around the world. Based on this law, the plaintiffs requested that U.S. government should take action to protect the dugong as an endangered species. The Okinawa Defense Bureau is carrying out work to build alternative facilities for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma at Henoko. The U.S. military has rights to administrate Camp Schwab based on the Status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States. The lawsuit aims to force the Defense Ministry of the United States to have to stop Japanese workers and vehicles employed by the Okinawa Defense Bureau from entering Camp Schwab.

The plaintiffs filed the Okinawa dugong lawsuit in 2003. In a tentative ruling in 2008, the judge decided that the dugong is subject to the NHPA, and that not evaluating the impact on the dugong was a violation of the law. The plaintiffs hoped that the U.S. defense ministry would respect the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act, decided by this initial judgment. The case was suspended after the judge’s decision. It will be resumed under a complaint issued by the plaintiffs. The court is expected to make a ruling on the case within 5-6 months, which is the shortest possible period.

In April, the U.S. defense ministry argued there was not an adverse effect on the dugongs according to a report they submitted to the federal district court. At a press conference, the plaintiffs pointed out that consultation with the peoples concerned, including the plaintiffs is not enough because it does not meet the necessary procedures of NHPA. They questioned why the documents created by the U.S. expert special committee were not disclosed. The plaintiffs asked the government to reveal the documents.

Anna Shimabukuru, a plaintiff who was born and raised in Nago City, said, “The sea is the property of the world. We want to strive to make Okinawa a peaceful place in the future.”

Takaaki Kagohashi, the head of the plaintiff attorneys and representative of the Japan Environmental Lawyers Federation, showed that a survey group of trained volunteers confirmed 118 traces of dugongs eating seaweed in sea grass beds of Schwab during May-July. He pointed out, “The Okinawa Defense Bureau has not reported this fact in the environmental impact assessment. There is conclusive evidence of Dugong feeding grounds beneath the site where the airfield will be built. There is a fair possibility the U.S. court will find the government has neglected to follow the basic procedures of the NHPA in the hearing of the case.”

(English translation by T&CT)

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