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Streamlined replacement airfield at Henoko gathers support

Date Posted: 2005-09-26

Henoko could move to the forefront once more as the ultimate relocation site for the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

Japanese and U.S. negotiators have their heads together in working a solution to move U.S. Marine Corps aircraft out of Ginowan to still to be built Henoko Airport on the northern side of Okinawa. The plan has merit, according to insiders, but involves scaling down the massive airfield complex and reducing the runway from 2,000 meters to 1,300 meters. The two countries’ spokesmen say the restructured airport would reduce construction times from more than a dozen years down to only five, and say they’re seeking central government approval within the next several months.

Okinawa’s prefectural government is not expected to endorse the new airport, because the shortened runway would not accommodate commercial passenger aircraft. A joint use civilian-military airport was a condition of the Prefecture agreement on Henoko several years ago. Local government officials were eying a new northern airport as a stepping stone to increased tourism activity in Okinawa.

The Tokyo government must now reason with Okinawa Prefectural Government leaders to resolve the possible impasse.

Futenma, in the heart of densely populated Ginowan City, has been a headache to government officials for years. An agreement was made in 1996 to move Futenma as quickly as a new airport could be built. Henoko was selected six years ago as that site, but environmental and political wrangling have slowed the project. Protesters even today often interfere with research survey boats mapping the coastal waters in preparation for the new airport.

A positive side to the revamped airfield is that ecological concerns would be lessened. Officials say there would be land fills of up to four meters along the coats, far less deep than originally envisioned. That, they say, will reduce impact upon the ecology of marine environment.

Other Futenma relocation ideas have been opposed, or rejected, for varying reasons. A suggestion it move to Camp Schwab in Nago was dumped because of interference with Marines’ training, while a move to Kadena is opposed by everyone from the U.S. Air Force to mayors of Okinawa City, Kadena and Chatan, the three surrounding communities.

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