WASHINGTON – Building a U.S. military base in Okinawan waters will cost 2.7 times as much as previously estimated, according a new announcement from Japan’s Defense Ministry. Now slated to take years longer to complete than expected, the proposed U.S. airbase could also wipe out the Okinawa dugong, one of the Earth’s most endangered marine mammals.
Construction involves filling in large portions of two ecologically rich bays crucial to the dugong’s survival. The soaring costs stem from the need to stabilize the site’s soft seabed, which has been described as having the “consistency of mayonnaise.” The new estimate puts construction costs at $8.48 billion, but Okinawa’s prefectural government calculates that the project could ultimately cost as much as $24.5 billion.
“The skyrocketing cost of this ridiculous and dangerous project should be a wakeup call for the Pentagon,” said Peter Galvin, a cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s increasingly questionable whether this base will ever be finished, but we do know that filling in and paving over these bays could wipe out the Okinawa dugong. This boondoggle will waste billions, but the ultimate price will be paid by these gentle marine mammals and the Okinawan cultural practices that revolve around them.”
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While Japanese taxpayers are largely funding the construction, the United States is also spending substantial amounts of money for coordination, planning and staff time. The United States will also pay for maintenance and operations if the base is finished.
The Center, other organizations and residents of Okinawa have sued the U.S. Department of Defense for failing to comply with U.S. environmental laws requiring a thorough evaluation of the project’s threat to the Okinawa dugong, a critically endangered manatee relative. The 9th Circuit ruled in 2017 that Okinawa residents deserved a full hearing on their concerns. Litigation is ongoing, with new oral arguments likely in early spring.
Dugongs have long been revered by native Okinawans. The dugong is listed as an object of national cultural significance under Japanese law. Under the U.S. National Historic Preservation Act and international law, the United States must avoid or mitigate harm to places or things of cultural significance to another country.Print