GINOWAN, Okinawa — Members of Japan’s Lower House made a one-day tour of Okinawa on Monday to discuss the Futenma relocation controversy with local officials.
Eleven members of the Special Committee on Okinawa and the Northern Territories toured Camp Schwab and observed Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a hill overlooking the sprawling base that has been slated for closure since 1996.
“We are here to learn more about the situation surrounding the air station and hear voices of residents,” said Koichi Yamamoto of the Liberal Democratic Party, who chairs the committee.
Eying Futenma from Kakazu Heights, Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha told the visiting Diet members that city residents constantly suffer from noise from the air station and there have been numerous aircraft accidents over the years.
This week marks the 14th anniversary of the announcement of a bilateral agreement to return 21 percent of the land used by the U.S. military on Okinawa. The agreement called for closing Futenma within seven years — as long as a replacement facility was built for Marine air operations.
Two major replacement plans were scrapped several years ago and the Japanese government is considering canceling a third project, part of a 2006 agreement to realign U.S. forces in Japan that calls for building a new Marine air facility on the lower part of Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay.
For years, Iha has campaigned for the immediate closure of the base, which lies in the middle of the city. Futenma, he says, is “the most dangerous airport in the world” and is unnecessary since a majority of the Marines on Okinawa will be transferred to Guam.
Iha told the Diet members that according to the July 2006 “Guam Integrated Military Development Plan,” released in July 2006, hangars to accommodate 67 helicopters as well as other aircraft are to be constructed on a new Marine base to be constructed on Guam.
Since there are approximately 74 tenant aircraft now stationed at Futenma, it appears the new Guam facility would be able to house everything now based at Futenma, Iha argues.
The 2006 agreement involves transferring major Marine commands on Okinawa to Guam, including about 8,000 Marines and their families. The number of Marines based on Okinawa has consistently been between 12,000 and 14,000, according to Japanese and U.S. sources.
“With so few Marines remaining,” Iha said Monday, “it’s easy to question why a new military facility is necessary to replace Futenma.”