SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge in San Francisco on Friday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to stop construction of a U.S. military base in Japan that it said would harm the Okinawa dugong, an endangered marine mammal related to the manatee.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen said he didn't have the authority to stop construction of the base off Okinawa.
"Put simply, this court lacks the power or necessary competence to enjoin or otherwise interfere with the construction of a U.S. military facility overseas that is being built consistent with American treaty obligations and in cooperation with the Japanese government," he said in his decision.
The suit was brought by Japanese residents and environmental groups and named former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as a defendant.
The Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs, plans to appeal the decision, said Peter Galvin, director of programs for the center.
"We believe it's an erroneous decision that will be overturned by a higher court," he said.
The fight, which has been going on for years, is over a decision to relocate the Futenma Air Station — part of a broader arrangement between the U.S. and Japan that would lead to a reduced military presence on Okinawa.
Environmentalists say the construction of two aircraft runways on landfill in a bay as part of the construction plan will destroy critical feeding grounds and habitat for the Okinawa dugong.
The animal is associated with traditional creation myths in Japan and listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, with its numbers estimated to be below 50 about a decade ago.
The plaintiffs originally filed the lawsuit in 2003, claiming the defense department failed to consider the base construction's potential harm to the dugong.
A federal judge agreed, and in 2008 ordered defense officials to conduct a review, which was completed in 2014, according to Chen's ruling.
The review found that the base would have no adverse effect on the Okinawa dugong. The plaintiffs said the finding was "arbitrary and capricious" and asked Chen to set it aside.
In his ruling on Friday, the judge said ordering that the finding be set aside would have no practical effect since "the American and Japanese governments have made a final and (apparently) irreversible decision to construct the challenged military base."