Doubt cast on committee by Defense Bureau for environmental protection of Henoko relocation

January 29, 2015 Kyoko Ishii and Yuri Shimizu of Ryukyu Shimpo

The Environmental Oversight Committee was set up by the Okinawa Defense Bureau to carry out environmental protection measures to mitigate the impact of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corp Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Nago. Some of the committee members have cast doubt on its objectivity and say it is difficult to assess the environmental effect caused by the reclamation work. On January 28, interviews with the committee members revealed that they have asked to set up an independent organization within the committee. The call for an independent organization implies they doubt the role played by the committee in the Henoko relocation.

Last year, 120 of 248 steel plate anchors weighing 160 kilograms each and used to tie up floats marking out a new restricted area for construction of the base went missing due to Typhoon Vongfong. Furthermore, a large Porites coral colony in the reclamation area was damaged. Anchors left 36 scars on the seagrass beds in Henoko. The biggest scar is 265 meters-long. The committee adopted an environmentally damaging plan to change the location at which Mija River will be diverted, after the Okinawa Defense Bureau requested approval to modify some of its construction methods.

The bureau set up the committee after former Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima approved the land reclamation work at Henoko on condition of establishing an organization to overview environmental protection policies for the reclamation. The bureau has privately held meetings with the committee three times since the fiscal year of 2014. They have hardly disclosed what was discussed. The Japanese government has left it entirely up to the committee, which is relying on research plans drawn up by the bureau, to evaluate the environmental impact caused by new base construction and the use of land provided to the U.S. military. One of the committee members who suggested setting up an independent organization, said, “It is problematic the committee plays the roles of both evaluating and approving plans for environmental protection in the Henoko relocation.” Another member said, “It is necessary for third-party experts to evaluate how the landfill work influences the Henoko area environmentally.”

In a change to the location at which Mija River, which runs through Camp Schwab, will be diverted, the Japanese government adopted and later cancelled plans to build an underground watercourse of 1,022 meters in length. The course, proposed by bureau in September 2014, would have taken 17 months to complete.

The committee had previously considered a more environmentally friendly way to build an underground watercourse, which would have been 730 meters long and taken 24 months to complete. The idea was declined because it required more construction work on land in existing buildings.

With the start of the submarine drilling investigation in August 2014, the bureau carried out an 11-day dugong habitat survey, using a helicopter. They found one of the marine mammals in Oura Bay and 11 of them in Kayo coast in Nago, which is next to Oura Bay. Another 11 dugongs were spotted in the waters of Kouri Island, which is located to the west coast of the main island of Okinawa.

(English translation by T&CT)

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