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US hopes for relocation of MCAS Futenma by 2000

Date Posted: 1999-07-09

The United States hopes the long-awaited relocation of the US Marines Corps Air Station Futenma will be finalized by year’s end, media reports said recently.

The U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Thomas Foley, in an interview conducted by The Japan Times newspaper, said the United States would like to “see some progress by the end of the year.” The ambassador’s call echoed sentiments aired by U.S. President Bill Clinton only last week.

The first attempt at relocation, under Japan-U.S. security agreements signed in 1996 and to be completed within five to seven years, involved the construction of a floating heliport off Nago, site of the 2000 Group of Eight Summit.

Ambassador Foley said the “so-called sea-based facility - did not receive adequate support in Okinawa,” and to date the central government has yet to announce any plans for an alternative site.

The proposal met with criticism from Nago residents and environmentalists who claimed the construction would create pollution, damage existing coral reefs and seriously impact local fishing stocks. A referendum held over the relocation to Nago was rejected by residents.

This rejection has stalled relocation of MCAS Futenma, situated in the heart of Ginowan, a highly populated area to the north of the capital, Naha. Local residents complain of aircraft noise, the possibility of a helicopter crash and the need to better utilize the land in an area too small for their growing population.

Recently, President Clinton said he didn’t “want to go over there (Okinawa for the G8 summit) and have all these things hanging out” adding it was his desire to see the relocation issue settled by the time he arrives.

This comment drew an immediate response from Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine upon his return from a recent trip to Cologne, who said he had no intention of rushing the process and would deal with the relocation and the G8 summit agenda separately.

Ambassador Foley agreed with Inamine to some extent, stating the two issues need to be resolved independently of one another, but added he hoped “progress could be made... this year,” the Japan Times report said. Foley said the U.S. did not view the G8 summit as some form of deadline to have the relocation issue resolved, added the report.

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