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KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — The U.S.-Japan Joint Committee on Thursday approved the move of a controversial airplane washing area on the Navy Ramp side of this sprawling air base.

Residents of an adjacent area in the town of Kadena have protested that the aircraft maintenance operation, located near the fence line, creates noise pollution whenever planes, especially large KC-135 air refuelers, are moved to and from the facility.

They also complained of polluted water runoff that splashes into their neighborhood.

Thursday’s agreement calls for Japan to build a replacement facility about a half-mile from the fence line by March 2008, the end of Japan’s 2007 fiscal year.

Relocating Navy aircraft operations and support facilities has been under discussion since the area was mentioned in the 1996 report of the bilateral Special Action Committee on Okinawa. It called for reducing the area covered by U.S. bases on Okinawa by 21 percent and taking steps to reduce the impact bases have on their host communities.

The agreement is the second such move to close activity in the Navy Ramp area. Construction of a $1.46 million washing facility for small aircraft, including F-16 fighter jets, began in March and is scheduled for completion in March 2006.

No price tag has been placed on the facility to be built for the refuelers and other larger aircraft. Japanese officials estimated that all of the facilities in the Navy Ramp area would be relocated by 2010.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Defense Facilities Administration Agency issued a joint statement Thursday announcing the agreement, which allows for moving the wash facility to the Air Force side of the base, from Kadena town to Okinawa City.

Kadena Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi welcomed the move.

“I feel relieved,” he said Thursday afternoon. “It is a product of long negotiation.

“Just moving the facility for smaller aircraft will make a big difference. Now, the move of the facility for larger aircraft will really help to remarkably reduce the noise.”

The only problem is the wait, he said.

“Another two years before the move is completed is too long,” he said. “I will continue to make an effort to move the facilities as soon as possible.”

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