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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The ribbon is cut and warships tied on, but a lot of dirt still must be dredged around Piedmont Pier before a nuclear-propelled aircraft carrier can park comfortably at Yokosuka Naval Base.

The project requires cooperation among several government entities, and environmentalists are urging caution in disturbing the sea bottom there. But, in stark contrast to the 12 years it took to complete the pier’s renovation above the waterline, the U.S. Navy has just two years before the USS George Washington is to arrive.

The Nimitz-class carrier is to dock in 2008 to replace the USS Kitty Hawk, a 45-year-old conventionally powered carrier slated for decommissioning that year.

“The U.S. side requested the government of Japan complete the dredging project by June 1, 2008, to ensure that there is a required level of water depth for safe operation of Nimitz-class aircraft carriers,” base spokesman Philip Molter stated in an e-mail.

The George Washington needs a minimum 50-foot draft to navigate comfortably in and out of port, compared with the 45 feet needed by conventional ships.

In Yokosuka, that means four square kilometers need dredging, from the entrance of Yokosuka Bay to Piedmont Pier (also known as Berth or Pier 12), Molter said.

But the project still is in the talking phase.

A soil, sounding and magnetic survey must be completed before any work begins, said Yokosuka city military base division assistant manager Masashi Suzuki.

“The city’s ports and harbors bureau is discussing the [survey] with Yokohama Defense Facilities Administration Bureau,” Suzuki said. DFAB will lead the dredging project, he said. The city is to review the plans in a port manager role, city ports and harbors bureau officials said.

Local environmentalists are looking to the city and encouraging strict review, as underwater soil samples showed traces of lead, mercury and arsenic in 1989. Work on lengthening and modernizing the pier halted in 1992 after contaminated soil was found and then entombed in a concrete sarcophagus.

“This host-nation support project required 12 years, expenses of 12.8 billion yen (about $114 million) and faced every imaginable difficulty,” Yokohama DFAB director Nobushige Takamizawa said at Piedmont Pier’s June 6 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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