Joint Futenma report fails to settle runway plan
Stars and Stripes
GINOWAN, Okinawa — U.S. and Japanese officials missed an end-of-August deadline to hash out all the details for a new air facility that would replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma located here in urban Ginowan.
Instead, they released a report Tuesday that contained two possible runway configurations for the replacement facility planned for Camp Schwab along the island’s rural northeast coast. The two sides are expected to continue talks at the defense and state department levels before deciding on a final plan.
That decision, however, is not expected to come before the November gubernatorial election in Okinawa, where there’s strong opposition to the any new base construction.
Tokyo wants the base move to be less of a campaign issue, Japanese political analysts say. Okinawa officials were briefed on the runway plans before Tuesday’s announcement, according to the Ministry of Defense.
The working committee of U.S. and Japanese officials was tasked in May with hammering out details for the facility by the end of August. One runway configuration involves two runways in a V-shape that was first adopted by the two countries in a May 2006 agreement that called for closing Futenma and moving the Marines there to Camp Schwab. That’s the plan favored by the U.S.
The other proposal calls for just one runway. Both plans call for the runways to stretch from the lower part of Camp Schwab on the Henoko peninsula onto landfill in Oura Bay. The single runway plan is being pushed by the Japanese side in hopes it can gain the acceptance of Okinawa officials who are against the base plan.
According to the report, the single runway option would use 370 acres, affecting 297 acres of seaweed beds in Oura Bay. The V-shaped option, would take up 507 acres, with 395 acres of landfill. The offshore area is known to be the northernmost feeding ground of the rare dugong, an endangered saltwater manatee.
Closing Futenma, located in densely populated Ginowan, has been on the table since the U.S. and Japan decided in 1996 to reduce the land on Okinawa used for U.S. bases by approximately 20 percent.
In May 2006, the move to Camp Schwab was agreed upon as part of a broader realignment of U.S. troops in Japan that also called for moving major Marine Corps commands and some 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam in 2014.