December 27, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo
The Ministry of Defense announced that new base construction at Henoko in Nago city would have an estimated total construction cost of around 930 billion yen, and would take approximately 12 years to complete. Due to soft ground conditions in Oura Bay spreading, construction costs have increased almost 2.7 times the 2014 estimate of 350 billion yen, and the return of MCAS Futenma to Okinawa has been pushed from sometime after 2022 to sometime in the 2030s.
As Okinawa had been indicating, Japan was forced to drastically revise their new base construction plan. While the project is one unprecedented in scale for Okinawa, it is easy to see that the government underestimated numbers to avoid backlash by Japanese citizens. This is one of the most complicated construction efforts ever seen in Japan, and there is a strong likelihood that costs and construction time continue to swell.
According to Okinawa, the initial investment for the relocation was around 147.1 billion yen. At this point in time, only 1% of the land reclamation work has been completed, while over one-third of the originally estimated 350 billion yen has already been used.
Furthermore, as they begin the massive effort of reinforcing the ground, it is hard to imagine that they will able to keep construction costs even under the new estimate of 930 billion yen. They must explain the construction methods they plan on using, as well as how the construction costs are being calculated based on this.
At the outset, when the government learned of the spreading soft foundation in Oura Bay, they kept that fact hidden from the Japanese public.
In a boring survey report compiled by the Okinawa Defense Bureau (ODB) in March of 2016, the results indicated that the firmness of the ground had an N-value of zero, like “mayonnaise.”
After the report was obtained via a right-to-know request filed in March of 2018, the government continued to be unclear about the existence of the soft ground. Later that year in the gubernatorial election in September, it should be considered that this put the candidate supported by the government at a disadvantage.
When a base-opposing candidate, Denny Tamaki, won the election, the government resumed construction in the bay, which had been previously halted. In December, the dumping of sand for land reclamation was forced through.
Even while knowing that costs and construction time were blowing up, they pushed through with land reclamation. It was as if they were trying to establish the fact that land reclamation could not be stopped. While they were certainly ignoring the will of Okinawans, they were also deceiving Japan as a whole regarding the use of taxes for base construction.
Japan’s national debt to GDP ratio is the worst amongst G8 countries. Spending such an astronomical amount of tax funds for a U.S. military base that will bring no return of investment is foolish.
Governor Tamaki has disclosed that an independent estimate calculates the total construction costs at up to 2.65 trillion yen, and will take over 13 years to complete, and that he has asked the government to discuss searching for a new way to remove the danger of MCAS Futenma. Starting with the soft foundation, Henoko is grappling with a number of issues that make it ill-suited for new base construction, already proving that it is not the “only solution,” as stated by the Japanese government.
If the government sticks to the current plan, it will corrupt Japan’s fiscal discipline and push the removal of the danger of MCAS Futenma even further into the distance.
The Japanese government needs to stop land reclamation immediately, and look to cooperating with Okinawa.
(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)
December 27, 2019 Ryukyu Shimpo