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New US heliport plan splits local residents

Date Posted: 2007-07-05

The transformation of American military bases on Okinawa has a new heliport set for construction in Higashi Village’s Takae Area. It will replace the helicopter landing zone presently at the northern training area.

Construction is to begin this month, and the community is divided over whether to accept or fight the new heliport. Opponents are already marshaling their supporters, promising to obstruct construction workers and equipments entering the site. “We are going to use our power,” says resident Shinji Isa. “We will never let them build the heliport here.

Isa acknowledges he can’t predict how many local residents will join the opposition effort.

Representative Takako Motonaga has created mail lists appealing nationwide for people to join the protest through the internet. Detractors already say the opposition has limited local support, and that most of those committed to the protest action are outsiders. One group, the World Wildlife Federation Japan, charges a new heliport would cause too much damage to the environment.

The Naha Self Defense Agency has already conducted briefings, explaining the new project. Most Takae area farmers are taking the new heliport project in stride. One farmer says “it won’t change anything. We know how long the opposition people will try to give opinions, but they never listen, so nothing will happen.”

Only 20 local citizens attended the briefings, with the majority coming from outside the Higashi Village and Takae areas. Yukio Teruya, a resident, says “We can’t be living just to oppose a transfer. It doesn’t bring anything and we need our life. I have family. I need my family. Opposition people do not support my family.”

Even the village mayor has had a change of heart, and now supports the new helipad. When Morihisa Ijuu ran for election, he pledged never to accept the military facility. Ijuu now agrees it is needed, and will be a financial boon to his community. Takae is known for its pineapple fields, but production is slipping because the population is getting older and can’t work the fields. Much of the land sits empty, and farmers are saying they are happy to rent their land to the military.

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