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Friday, August 26, 2011

Okinawa Outreach: Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa demands halt to construction of U.S helipads in Yanbaru Forest

Okinawa Outreach, a new blog edited by Okinawan scholars and activists, offers news, photos, and analysis directly from Okinawa.

Its July reports describe efforts by the Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa (Okinawa BD) to obtain answers from the Okinawan Defense Bureau (the Japan Defense Bureau's branch in Okinawa) regarding U.S. military plans for training accident-prone military Osprey aircraft in biodiverse Yanbaru Forest. The Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa demanded a halt to the construction of helipads which the U.S. wants to locate in one of the most well-preserved areas of the forest, a habitat for numerous endangered species unique to northern Okinawa.

Okinawa Outreach also provided updates to the Okinawan Defense Bureau's November 2008 legal action against 15 residents of the Takae community (including a child), who, since July 2007, had been conducting a peaceful sit-in protest against the helipad construction on the prefectural road near the construction sites. Many consider this frivolous litigation, a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) action, intended to intimidate and silence critics. The next hearing is scheduled for the end of August:
Okinawa BD's “Tanabata” Action
July 17, 2011



(Okinawa Defense Bureau and Peace Bamboo)


On July 7, Citizens’ Network for Biodiversity in Okinawa (Okinawa BD) had an official meeting with the Okinawa Defense Bureau [the Japan Defense Bureau's Okinawa branch] to make inquiries about US military helipad construction in Takae in the Yanbaru forest area and request the Bureau to stop the construction.

The meeting took place in light of the Japanese government’s recent announcement that the controversial MV-22 Osprey will be deployed to the US Marine Futenma Air Station, beginning in October 2012.

As a public outcry against Osprey deployment spreads across Okinawa (see Ryukyu Shimpo article here) the focus of the Okinawa BD’s inquires was on the possibility of the helipads under construction in Takae being used by the Osprey in the future.


(No Helipad in Yanbaru Forest - WWF Japan Hanawa)


Okinawa Defense Bureau Declined to Answer
July 18, 2011


In the meeting on July 7, the Okinawa Defense Bureau declined to answer any part of Okinawa BD’s inquiries, reiterating the “[the Bureau] can’t answer or make a comment because the Takae lawsuit is still pending” (for info on the Takae lawsuit, see below). The Bureau also maintained that it would proceed with the construction plan.

In the previous two meetings between Okinawa BD and the Bureau, the Bureau used the same excuse, "the Takae Lawsuit," to evade the questions Okinawa BD submitted in its “Open Question Letter” to the Bureau.

It remains to be seen however how long the Bureau can keep its silence on the Osprey deployment plan.

Prominent political voices in Okinawa, led by Okinawa Prefectural Governor Nakaima, are now also demanding for a full explanation from the Bureau and the Defense Ministry.


( Yanbaru Forest is the source of our life)


Below are Okinawa BD’s inquiries and demands and the Bureau’s (non) responses in the meeting on July 7.

Okinawa BD’s Inquiries:

1) Will the MV-22 Osprey training take place in the Northern Training Area ? Will the MV-22 Osprey use the US helipads under construction in Takae ?


The Okinawa Defense Bureau responded by saying that it declined to answer or make a comment on these questions "because the Takae lawsuit* is still pending."

*Takae Lawsuit

In November 2008, the Okinawa Defense Bureau filed for a temporary injunction in the Naha District Court against 15 residents of the Takae community who, since July 2007, had been conducting a peaceful sit-in protest against the helipad construction on the prefectural road near the construction sites.

In what many consider a SLAPP [strategic lawsuit against public participation, intended to intimidate and silence critics] lawsuit, the Bureau charged these local residents for “obstruction of traffic."

In December 2008, the Bureau dropped the charges against one member (a child). In December 2009, the Naha District Court also dismissed the charges against 12 members. The trial for the remaining two residents began in January 2010.

In May 2010, pointing to the peculiar nature of the lawsuit, the Naha court ordered both the Bureau and the two residents to enter negotiation outside of court. Negotiation has not however taken place as the Okinawa Defense Bureau keeps refusing to negotiate.

The next hearing of the Takae lawsuit is scheduled to be held at the end of August.

2) The local media reported that the US military will conduct an “Environmental Review” on the deployment plan of MV-22 Osprey to U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station until March, 2012.

What is an “Environmental Review”? What does it entail?
Will an “Environmental Review” be conducted on the construction of helipads in Takae?

To the first part of the questions, the Okinawa Defense Bureau responded by saying that it had not been informed by the US of the details of the proposed “Environmental Review" and that, since it is the US that conducta such reviews, the Bureau had no knowledge of what the Environmental Review would entail. The Bureau also stated that it would make the details of the Environmental Review public as they come in.

To the second part, the Bureau responded by saying that it declined to answer or make a comment on the question of whether an Environmental Review will be conducted or in relation to the helipad construction in Takae "because the Takae lawsuit is still pending."

The Bureau also stated that it “does not know who the Japanese counterpart responsible for dealing with the issue of the Environmental Review is." The Bureau suggested that Okinawa BD make inquires directly to the US and US military regarding the issues of the Environmental Review.

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3) It is well known that, in the US, “Environment Impact Assessment” (EIA) has been conducted on the deployment plans of the Osprey. The Okinawa local media reported that, in Okinawa, the US government/military plans to carry out only an “Environment Review.” We regard this as a “double-standard” on the part of the US.

What is the Okinawa Defense Bureau's stance on this issue?

Does the Bureau plan to request the US government/military to conduct an EIA for deployment of the Osprey to the Futenma Air Station and the Northern Training Area?

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To the first part, the Okinawa Defense Bureau responded by saying that the Japanese government is in no position to make any judgments on the US systems of Environmental Review and EIA since it is the US that conducts them.

To the second part, the Bureau responded by saying that it declined to answer or make a comment on the question of whether the Bureau would plan to request the US government/military to conduct an EIA for deployment of the Osprey to the Futenma Air Station and the Northern Training Area "because the lawsuit is still pending."

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Demands

1)We demand the Okinawa Defense Bureau to suspend the construction of helipads in Takae it is now resuming and to withdraw the construction plan. (We believe that the Bureau cannot resume the construction while the US military is conducting its Environmental Review).

The Okinawa Defense Bureau responded by stating that it would proceed with the construction upon ensuring the safety of construction sites/procedures in order to assure the early return of the land in the Northern Training area, which was promised to be returned to Okinawa in the 1996 SACO agreement.

2)Please answer the questions in Okinawa BD’s "Open Question Letter" submitted to the Bureau on June 24, 2010.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau responded by saying that it declined to answer or make a comment "because the lawsuit is pending."

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