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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A major hurdle to realigning U.S. troops in Japan appears to have been removed with the Nago mayor’s acceptance Friday night of a plan to reconfigure a new airport to be built on Camp Schwab.

The decision reached between Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimaburkuro and Japan Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga in Tokyo will allow for building two runways on the base in rural northeast Okinawa. They’re to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the island’s urban center.

U.S. officials have not been part of the discussions between Tokyo and Nago and had no immediate comment on the late Friday agreement.

In the past, Marine Corps officials have stated that they favored moving air operations from Futenma as long as their operational requirements could be met at another facility on Okinawa.

Plans to relocate Futenma to Camp Schwab have been stalled by local officials’ opposition to flight paths that would send helicopters over residential areas. Their agreement apparently came when Nukaga proposed moving one of the runways so the flight paths would avoid local villages. The runways would be built at the foot of Cape Henoko, jutting into reclaimed land in Oura Bay.

“It is very significant that we were able to reach an agreement today,” Nukaga said at a news conference after the meeting. “The Futenma relocation plan had been in limbo for the past 10 years.”

In 1996, the United States and Japan agreed to replace MCAS Futenma with an air station elsewhere on Okinawa. A plan was accepted to build it about two miles offshore, connected by causeway to Camp Schwab, but opponents succeeded in blocking the project.

In October the United States and Japan agreed on a broad plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan, which included replacing Futenma with an airstrip on Camp Schwab. But Okinawa officials complained that the flight paths in the new plan would pose noise problems and safety risks to local residents.

Camp Schwab is in a rural area, separated from the urban center by a mountain but close to several villages within the Nago city limits.

Shimabukuro said the revised plan erased his concerns. “I am thankful that our position was accepted,” he said, expressing his “sincerest respect” to Nukaga for “his sincere response to our concerns.”

The deal maker was Nukaga’s suggestion to build the additional runway, creating separate flight paths for take-offs and landings. The communities of Henoko, Toyohara and Abu would be excluded from any flight paths and noise over other isolated residential areas would be minimized, according to Japanese news reports. The two runways will form a “V” shape in the area of Camp Schwab where barracks now are located.

During the meeting at the Defense Agency, Nukaga also reassured the mayor that construction would be carried out in an environmentally friendly way.

Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine was to fly to Tokyo on Saturday to discuss the Camp Schwab plan with Nukaga.

The agreement on the air station leaves one major obstacle to implementing the realignment plan: the U.S. request that Japan shoulder most of the $10 billion estimated cost of moving some 7,000 to 8,000 Marines and their dependents to Guam. The U.S. side proposed that Japan pay about $7.5 billion for the move. Japan has offered to cover about $3 billion through loans the United States would repay.

The two nations tried but failed to work out the details by the end of March; they’re to meet in Tokyo later this week to resume talks.


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