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Ginowan mayor presses for immediate Futenma closing

Date Posted: 2006-05-22

“We cannot accept Futenma being kept open until 2014.”

Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha echoed earlier demands this week that Futenma be closed now, instead of in 2104 when a replacement airfield is scheduled to be complete in the Nago City’s Henoko district.

Iha pressed his demands to the American Consul General on Okinawa, Thomas Reich. He told the Consul General Ginowan City wants the helicopters and aircraft removed immediately, citing safety concerns. The mayor was adamant the Marine aviation assets be moved off Okinawa as the best solution.

Reich rejected the mayor’s thinking, saying “it would hinder maintaining a deterent capability” for Japan. The Consul General told Iha “The dangers of Futenma will be removed when the base is relocated,” but said it is impractical to realign the Marine Corps planes and helicopters to other locations outside Okinawa.

Iha has repeatedly expressed concerns about the safety of CH53E heavy lift cargo helicopters at Futenma. He’s also reminded people that a CH53D helicopter crashed just outside Futenma’s boundary less than two years ago. The August 2004 crash onto Okinawa International University caused property damage but no injuries on the ground. Three Marine Corps aviators were injured.

Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine concurs in an immediate Futenma closing, and is pressing the issue one step farther. Inamine wants the two governments to construct an airfield in Camp Schwab capable of supporting 56 helicopters now based at Futenma. The governor wants a set of barracks torn down to make room for the helipad. He remains opposed to construction of any runways that require land reclamation into the nearby bay.

The temporary airfield would allow Futenma to shift helicopters in a much shorter period than 2014. Inamine insists he will oppose the Henoko plan for a two-runway facility as long as he is Governor.

Japan’s Defense Minister says there will be no piecemeal transfers of Futenma assets. Fukushiro Nukaga says Futenma will stay in place until the new Henoko replacement airfield is ready by 2014. “The functions of Futenma will be relocated as a package,” he said.

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