Photo/IllutrationConstruction work continues along the coast of the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on July 27. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, citing safety concerns, said July 27 he will revoke the approval given by his predecessor for land reclamation work at the Henoko district of Nago in northern Okinawa Prefecture.

The project is for a new U.S. military base to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan in central Okinawa Prefecture.

The reasons given by Onaga raise a number of pressing issues that the Abe administration needs to address during a hearing to be held so that it can convince the prefectural government and both local residents and the public of the need to proceed with the project.

The primary factor behind Onaga’s decision is a report on a geological survey by the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau. In early July, the bureau disclosed part of the report on the survey results to the prefectural government.

It contained a clutch of data indicating that parts of the seabed where a sea embankment is to be built for the reclamation consist of sand and clay, which means it is very soft and not solid as previously assumed.

A geotechnical engineering expert says the geological conditions in this part of the Henoko reclamation area are similar to those in the area where work to expand Tokyo’s Haneda Airport was undertaken with great difficulty. To a depth of 40 meters or so, the seafloor is as soft as mayonnaise, according to the expert.

It is impossible to build the embankment without changing the design and construction method described in the government’s plan submitted to the prefecture. Major changes in the plan and cost increases are inevitable, the expert says.

What is surprising is the fact that the administration did not disclose the results of the survey when the report was completed in March 2016. It only disclosed the information in response to freedom-of-information requests from local residents and the prefectural government.

Moreover, the administration has not announced any steps to deal with the problem or filed a request for the prefectural government’s permission to change the construction method. It has just said it will “assess the strength (of the seabed) from a comprehensive viewpoint based also on the results of other surveys.”

The administration seems to be intent on proceeding with other parts of the construction work so that there will be no turning back. It probably assumes the necessary changes in the design can be delayed until the point of no return is reached and doesn’t mind how much more money is needed.

The administration obviously intends to field a candidate sympathetic to the Henoko plan for the scheduled Okinawa gubernatorial election this fall as a way to curb the resistance of the prefectural government.

This is by no means the first time the Abe administration has betrayed the local government and people in Okinawa.

When it won the approval of the land reclamation plan from Onaga’s predecessor in 2013, the government promised to transplant coral, seaweed and rare algae found in the reclamation area before the work began.

But the government started the work without delivering on the promise. It has also announced its intention to start dumping dirt and sand for the reclamation from as early as August. The government has also broken its promise to transport constructional materials by land to protect the marine environment in the area.

The Abe administration has shown an inveterate propensity to use its power to violate rules and due processes without hesitation.

The administration’s behavior has put the nation’s democracy at risk.

Abe has repeatedly said the government will proceed with the plan to relocate the Futenma air base to Henoko in line with a Supreme Court ruling in late 2016.

But the ruling only said the former governor’s decision to approve the reclamation plan was not illegal. It did not endorse building the new base in Henoko.

Now that new facts about the soft seafloor have come to light, there is no disputing the need for the government to change its stance toward the Henoko plan.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 28