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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Okinawa Dugong Lawsuit Judge asks why US govt did not consult with environmental experts and Okinawans about Landfill, Construction Impact on Okinawa Dugong Cultural Heritage


Today, the Okinawa Dugong Lawsuit Judge asked why the U.S. govt did not consult with environmental experts and Okinawans about loss of Henoko dugong habitat when planning landfill and offshore training airstrip construction at Okinawa's most important natural cultural heritage site:
Environmental groups told a federal judge Thursday that in order to justify forging ahead with a new military base on Okinawa, the Department of Defense did a cursory job of evaluating effects on the endangered Okinawa dugong.

Earthjustice lawyer Sarah Burt said the Pentagon did not consult native Okinawans or the Okinawa prefectural government about the base’s potential harm to dugong populations that feed in the area, or about how the loss of habitat might impact Okinawan cultural practices.

“The affected communities are the traditional communities that hold the cultural beliefs and spiritual practices surrounding the dugong and they were not consulted in this case,” Burt told U.S. District Judge Edward Chen at Thursday’s hearing to determine whether an environmental challenge to the base can move forward.

Burt said the department is required under the National Historic Preservation Act to consult with the Okinawan government and affected communities, but instead hired contractors to speak with the Japanese government and outside academics...

[Federal District Court Judge Edward] Chen first dismissed the case in 2015, ruling the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction raised political questions the court lacked the authority to hear. At the time, Chen seemed fatalistic about the base’s construction and the court’s inability to offer the plaintiffs any effective relief...

But last year, the Ninth Circuit [Court of Appeals] ruled the plaintiffs have standing to seek declaratory and injunctive relief over the base, and that neither set of claims present political questions that prohibit judicial review...

...Chen seemed open to hearing from local cultural practitioners regarding anything the Department of Defense’s finding of no adverse impact [dumping landfill over dugong feeding grounds on the critically endangered mammal's survival] might have left out or ignored.

He also asked the government why it didn’t at least give the environmental groups a notice and comment period. Surely that wouldn’t offend America’s strategic partners, he suggested.

“Is it arbitrary and capricious to not even be told about the process?” Chen asked Justice Department attorney Mark Haag.
The Mainichi's coverage, "Legitimacy of Okinawa base relocation questioned in US court," provides a summary of the history of the lawsuit (initiated in 2003), and closes with responses from Burt and Peter Galvin, co-founder of one of the American plaintiffs, Center for Biological Diversity: 

Judge Chen is taking seriously his obligation to review what the Department of Defense has done," she said. "I'm hopeful that we have been able to convince him that the very purpose of the statute is informed decision making in partnership with local communities."

"I was able to make the case for the people of Okinawa and the dugong. So now we wait," she said.

Peter Galvin, director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity, emphasized the need for a big win.


Noting that the construction has already driven the resident dugongs from the area, Galvin warned that once the landfill is placed and the seagrass and coral are covered, serious damage will be irreversible.

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