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Okinawa leaders displeased: Two runway plans irk two mayors

Date Posted: 2010-09-02

It took only minutes for Okinawa mayors angry at the prospects of a replacement airfield for Futenma Marine Corps Air Station being built in northern Okinawa to begin venting their displeasure over a report released by the Japanese and U.S. governments spelling out details on how it proposes to build the new facility.

The report cites two options for runways at the new airfield planned for the Henoko district of Nago City, with much of the construction on the Marines’ Camp Schwab. One option is to build two V-shape runways, sticking with a plan spelled out in 2006 and reinforced in May of this year. The second proposal, introduced only weeks ago by Japanese officials trying to defuse the unrest about the base to be built in sparsely populated northern Okinawa, calls for a single runway to be constructed.

Nago City’s mayor called the report “utterly outrageous” and said he would never accept it. Susumu Inamine, who was elected last year on a campaign promise to block the new airfield from being built in Nago City, said the report could never be accepted.

The mayor of Ginowan City, where Futenma Marine Corps Air Station is now located, wasted no time in declaring it an impossibility for the Japanese government to ram through a replacement airfield in Okinawa if it hoped to win support from the local community. Yoichi Iha says he’s going to tell the government to cancel the May agreement confirming construction of the new base at Henoko.

The hot button issue of building the new base is likely to be deferred until after Okinawa’s November gubernatorial election. Controversy shrouds the project, with the United States sticking to its position the V-shape runways are best, and safest. Japan proposed a single runway, arguing it would reduce land reclamation requirements by nearly one-quarter, and require destruction of 67 hectares of seaweed beds compared with 78 under the American twin-runways plan. The U.S., responding to Japan’s proposal, filed a revised requirement on aviation requirements that would extend the runway flight zone to fly over a populated area.

In either case, the runways would be 1,800 meters long, but the V-shape runways would involve 205 hectares of land compared with 160 hectares for the single runway. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa had asked the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, to support Japan’s plan for a single runway. Roos refused, even though Kitazawa told the ambassador that a change in flight routes that the U.S. side wants, would require another round of environmental assessment work by Tokyo.

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