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Okinawan construction companies oppose proposed QIP method

Date Posted: 2010-05-14

Controversy over relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa is getting nearly all the headlines, but the Prime Minister’s plan for building the airfield’s runway on pilings is drawing the ire of local construction companies.

The concept of switching from building two V-shape runways on reclaimed land in Oura Bay to accomplish the airfield’s mission is now being changed by Yukio Hatoyama. He wants to build a single runway, but on pilings or stilts instead of reclaimed land, using the Quick Installation Platform method to minimize environmental damage.

Local construction companies are vigorously opposed, despite arguments the QIP method of sinking metal pylons into the ocean floor to support a runway built on top of them would be less environmentally damaging. The QIP method is being used in construction of a runway at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

The idea of QIP was first studied for the Okinawa project over a two-year period in the early 2000’s, and technical feasibility was considered good. Okinawan construction companies were strongly opposed to QIP because they lack the technical expertise to construct such platforms. Instead of being able to obtain and execute contracts, specialized public works contractors from outside Okinawa would have gotten the jobs, leaving local companies to pick up only a fraction of the monies involved through subcontracts. In essence, Okinawa companies would have derived lower profits, and that was enough to get the government to drop the QIP concept in favor of land reclamation.

Eight years later, as the QIP concept surfaces again, local construction companies are being very outspoken, saying “anything other than land reclamation won’t bring good benefits to local businesses. We can’t agree”. That adds another load on Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s shoulders as he tries to persuade Okinawa to accept the Futenma plan at Henoko, something more difficult with the addition of the local business community opposing him.

QIP, while reportedly environmentally friendly, does have some drawbacks. Hatoyama has said “land reclamation is a profanity against nature,” but government officials note that “in addition to coral damage from driving thousands of metal rods into the sea floor, the sea surface underneath the runway will have its sunlight blocked.”

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