GINOWAN, Okinawa — Perhaps as a peace offering to Okinawa, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reportedly is suggesting a change to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement that would force the U.S. to clean up returned base property.
Facing increased pressure from Okinawan officials concerning Hatoyama’s backpedaling on a promise to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma outside the prefecture, part of the base proposal Japan is considering is the inclusion of a new environmental provision in the SOFA, according to Japanese media accounts.
Kyodo News reported that it obtained a draft of the relocation proposal Tuesday night. It includes modifying the 2006 U.S.-Japan agreement to realign U.S. forces in Japan by stipulating the construction of just one new runway instead of two on Camp Schwab on Okinawa’s rural northeast coast. The runway would extend into Oura Bay on pilings instead of reclaimed land as planned.
It also reportedly includes closing several bombing ranges on outer islands, moving more jet fighter training to mainland Japan and moving helicopter training to Tokunoshima, an island 125 miles northeast of Okinawa. Local officials there are also against the plan.
Okinawan officials have been pressing Hatoyama’s center-left government to make several changes in the SOFA, including adding the environmental clause. Under a 1960 agreement, the U.S. military is not obligated to repair any environmental damage on returned base property.
Under the 2006 realignment agreement, the U.S. agreed to return most of the military bases south of Kadena Air Base once the Marine air units are moved to Camp Schwab.
Tatsuo Oyakawa, chief of the prefecture’s Military Affairs Office, said he wants to be sure the returned property is environmentally sound.
In the past, Japan paid for cleaning former base property contaminated with arsenic, lead and other pollutants.
“Changing SOFA provisions is something Okinawa has been asking for many years,” Oyakawa told Stars and Stripes on Wednesday.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.