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ĎOne runway or two?í, thatís the Henoko airfield question

Date Posted: 2010-08-09

A 2006 agreement calling for relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from congested Ginowan City in central Okinawa to a rural area of northern Okinawa has for four years addressed having a pair of V-shape runways extending on reclaimed land into Oura Bay, but now the Japanese government has tossed a new proposal into the mix, calling for a single runway that the U.S. military says probably would not be long enough to safely conduct its missions.

The working-level group of experts poring over the technical aspects of the airfield relocation are at odds over how to handle the runways. The Americans are sticking with the two runways plan, while Japan suggests a single runway that would reduce land reclamation requirements by 25%. Bringing the two plans forward would, the Japanese government hopes, placate Okinawans who hopefully will accept the single runway concept with less animosity.

The technical experts were to have completed their work and final decisions made on the new base at Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago City before the end of August, but Prime Minister Naoto Kanís government has decided to postpone decisions until after the Okinawa gubernatorial election in late November. Okinawaís governor has the authority to grant permission for reclamation in Oura Bay, but the question of whether Governor Hirokazu Nakaima will be victorious over his expected challenger, anti-bases activist and Ginowan City Mayor Yoichi Iha, has the central government concerned. Nakaima has in the past supported the Henoko plan, provided the U.S. agreed to move the two V-shape runways further into the bay.

The V-shape runways, each 1,800 meters long, would take up an area of 205 hectares, requiring reclamation of 160 hectares, and would avoid helicopter flights over land. Thatís the preferred plan by Washington. Japanís idea for a single runway would require 150 hectares, including land reclamation totaling 120 hectares. The single runway, Japan argues, would be environmentally more correct, but would then require flights over hotels and a nearby golf course.

The decisions wonít be made until December at the earliest. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has ordered the process put on hold until after elections in Nago City in September and Okinawa Prefecture in November. Sources in Tokyo say Washington has agreed to the delay, and also to discussing the two different runway proposals. Other sources say U.S. officials have already agreed to changing to the single runway concept, a move that many in Kanís government hope will mollify Okinawans who want Futenma moved out of the Prefecture.

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