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Nago City proposes change to new airfield runways

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2007-01-25

Just when it appeared every conceivable opinion on how to handle the proposed new airfield at Camp Schwab was on the table, along comes another one.

In a surprise flip-flop following a meeting with Okinawa’s new governor, the Nago City mayor has proposed a change in the runways design for the new airfield planned for northern Okinawa. After a lengthy meeting with the governor and other area mayors, Yoshikazu Shimabukuro announced he wants to have the V-shaped pair of runways moved from the current design location to another more toward to the southwest. That would move the two 1,800-meter long runways farther into Oura Bay, off the coast of Camp Schwab.

A move farther into the ocean waters would move the runways farther from nearby residential areas, reducing the potential for over flights by the military aircraft. Shimabukuro’s proposal comes only a week after the central government in Tokyo firmly insisted there would be no changes forthcoming to the current plan, which is soon to begin an environmental assessment phase.

Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, has expressed a willingness to talk changes to the proposed airfield, repeatedly emphasizing the current plan was conceived without discussion between Tokyo and the Prefecture government. The Minister to Okinawa, Sanae Takaichi, says Tokyo wants ”to discuss things more flexibly and more deeply with local committee groups. If local people and the government had the same opinion, there would be no need for meetings.” She concedes there are “different opinions, and that’s why we need to discuss things deeply.”

Prime Minister Shinzou Abe is echoing similar cooperation and flexibility themes this week. “We want to explain from our heart to the Okinawa people,” he says, “that we thought the V-shape runway was good. I believe if we explain more to local people, they will understand too.” He promises to “do our best for mutual understanding”.

Defense Minister Akio Kiyuma is ricocheting between positions. This week he’s saying the current V-shape runway plan must stand. Only weeks ago he was advocating significant change, and even proposing a total change to a single runway. He says now “the basic idea is as before, for a V-letter runway, not being moved to the southwest.” Kiyuma adds, though, that “we still will talk to local committee groups and try to find a common opinion.”

Nothing’s changed, as Chief Cabinet Secretary Kyohisa Shiozaki points out. “Anyone who does political work has to say all kinds of things on the way to a final result.: Shiozaki adds, though, “we also know that she is on our side and she will never say ‘let’s move the runway to the southwest’. She can’t. She is just saying there’s a need for more discussion.”

Nakaima, for his part, has said little about the new airfield, choosing instead to focus on demands Futenma be closed within three years. “We need to close the Futenma Air Station and remove a dangerous situation,” he says, but then points out to both supporters and detractors that ”It is very difficult to make conditions for closing Futenma within three years.”

He pledges to “protect the citizens’ safety and life, and to avoid dangerous situations through discussions with the American military.” Nakaima hasn’t explained exactly how his thoughts and ideas can make Futenma safer, but he is confident when he tells citizens “I believe the central government and the military will do everything to protect our safety and lives. Somehow…but surely.”

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