More than two years have passed since the government's Okinawa Defense Bureau began landfill work for a new U.S. military base off the coast of Henoko in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.
The first stage of the 6.3-hectare landfill in the shallow waters is now complete, rising up to 4 meters along the shoreline. About half of the 33 hectare zone that will form the adjoining area has also been filled in and the work is expected to be complete by the end of September.
Construction was picking up pace in December as new operations began with two ships simultaneously filling in earth and sand. A 141-meter storage barge, containing landfill for the project, has also been deployed to Oura Bay.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government, which is opposed to the construction, is seeking a solution through dialogue, but there seems to be no concrete way to resolve the conflict.
“The prefecture calculates the overall progress rate (of landfill operations) at 3.8%. I don’t think it's something that can’t be suspended or turned back,“ said Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki during a Dec. 10 news conference.
Attention is now on a decision expected from the prefecture sometime after the New Year on whether to authorize changes in landfill plans.
Tamaki is expected to reject a design change application for Oura Bay, where the sea bed is soft and must undergo improvements. So it's not possible to estimate when the next stage of construction might begin.
The plan is expected to take 12 years to complete once the prefecture grants approval. Therefore, when the entire landfill project may be completed is unclear.
If the governor rejects the application or delays the decision, it is likely to lead to another court battle between Okinawa and the central government over the issue.
Okinawa lost an earlier court case against the land ministry over the governor’s revocation of a landfill permit. Of the nine court cases the prefecture has been fighting against the central government, Okinawa has so far lost in three cases and settled in four, with no cases won so far.
Prospects for Okinawa to reach an agreement with the central government in the near future are bleak.