Ground Improvement Work for Air Station to Begin in Henoko Despite Spiraling Costs and Opposition in Okinawa

The Defense Ministry is gearing up to commence ground improvement work in the Henoko coastal area of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in preparation for the relocation of the U.S. Futenma Air Station. This follows a high court ruling that granted the central government the authority to approve design changes for the relocation, in lieu of the Okinawa prefectural government.

The ground improvement work, which involves driving approximately 70,000 piles into the seabed to enhance its stability, is a crucial aspect of the design changes. However, the Okinawa prefectural government is poised to engage in further legal battles, posing potential challenges that may need to be addressed before the 12-year relocation process can be completed.

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara expressed his intention to steadily proceed with the improvement work, calling it a milestone toward the full-scale return of the Futenma Air Station. The relocation of Futenma to Henoko is considered a realistic option due to the increasing importance of Okinawa in Japan’s security environment.

The Defense Ministry is set to begin the ground improvement work in mid-January, focusing on the planned reclamation area on the Oura Bay side of the U.S. military’s Camp Schwab. It has been three years and eight months since the central government applied for permission from the Okinawa prefectural government for the ground improvement work.

This work will involve building a seawall first, followed by driving steel pipes into the soft seabed and pouring sand into them using a work boat. A total of about 71,000 sand piles will be created to stabilize the soft seabed. The entire ground improvement process alone is expected to take about four years and one month.

Despite being employed in past land reclamation projects, the method of work presents unique challenges due to the thick layer of soft seabed, requiring sand piles to be driven down to up to about 70 meters below sea level. Any new problems that may arise during the work could lead to modifications in the project design by the central government.

The costs related to the work, initially estimated at over ¥350 billion, have surged to about ¥930 billion due to the prolonged construction period. As a result, a senior Defense Ministry official has indicated that a review of the costs will eventually be necessary.

In summary, the ground improvement work in the Henoko coastal area is a critical step in the complex process of relocating the U.S. Futenma Air Station. Despite potential legal challenges and soaring costs, the Defense Ministry remains committed to seeing the project through to completion.

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