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Tokyo, Nago still discussing two airfield runway changes

Date Posted: 2006-04-01

The potential for aviation accidents at a proposed new site for a Marine Corps airfield continues to stall agreement on moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to Cape Henoko and Camp Schwab.

Safety, plus noise pollution, are being argued as Nago City officials work with the Japan Defense Agency on exactly where to build the new 1,800 meters long runway on Camp Schwab and into the adjacent bay, and at what angles.

Nago wants the runway path changed to protect Henoko and Toyohara communities. The government has agreed to a ten-degree change, which would eliminate Henoko and Toyohara from the flight path. At the same time, the change would bring American aircraft over Abu and Kayo in northeastern Nago.

Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro and Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga are still talking, but they say they’re making only slight progress. Shimabukuro wants all four of his communities outside the airport flight plan. Nukaga is fine tuning the proposals, which also include moving the runway an additional 30-50 meters out into the sea.

Okinawa Prefecture Governor Keiichi Inamine remains in the loop, meeting with officials over the weekend. He remains opposed to any airport deal on Okinawa, insisting Futenma and its aircraft must leave the island completely. He maintains he and the local governments have the right to be more deeply involved in decisions.

Officials explaining the complexity of modifying the airport runway plans say a plus for one area is a drawback for another. Moving the runway ten degrees counterclockwise from the present plan would bring the Ginoza Village Matsuda district 350 meters closer to the flight pattern, while moving aircraft about the same distance farther away from Toyohara. Nago is proposing the runway be moved 400 meters off shore, a suggestion likely to trigger increased protests from environmentalists.

An earlier plan to establish the new airfield as an offshore facility stretching into Cape Henoko was clobbered into submission by environmentalists arguing the dugongs and the coral would be adversely affected. Vice Defense Minister Takemasa Moriya says Nago City officials, in asking for the radical change, are saying “We haven’t seen a dugong for decades,” and “there is almost no seaweed ground” in the area.

The U.S. Military Base Ad hoc Committee, meeting Monday, is criticizing the prefecture government for not being more aggressively involved.

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