Environmental survey OKs Camp Schwab airfield plans
April 6, 2009
A significant milestone was passed in an effort to build a new Marine Corps airfield at Camp Schwab on Okinawa when Japan’s Ministry of Defense released findings from an environmental survey that sided with the government’s design for the site.
The new airfield is expected to be completed by 2014 and will host U.S. Marine air operations currently based at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The findings, released Wednesday, agree with U.S. military and Japanese officials that the new facility should be built at the tip of the Henoko Peninsula in rural northeast Okinawa — with part of a V-shaped runway extending into the shallow part of Ourawan Bay.
The survey said the Tokyo government plan was the most adequate, compared with the six proposals made by the Okinawa prefectural government and Nago City Council.
The survey was murky on why it selected the Tokyo plan, but it reported the design to be the most realistic in terms of construction and environmental effects.
Okinawa officials and local environmentalists Wednesday criticized the survey as unfair and unreliable.
Local officials had called for the runway site to be pushed farther off shore and environmentalists said the construction would harm manatees and ocean life. The report said construction would have little effect on marine life.
The survey also introduced additional facilities in the design, including four helipads.
"It is regrettable that survey did not consider our request to move the location farther off the shore," Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said Wednesday in a statement.
Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro said the survey lacked the opinions and concerns of neighboring communities the project would effect.
The relocation of the air station is a key part of the 2006 bilateral agreement to realign U.S. troops in Japan.
About 8,000 Marines and their families are scheduled to transfer to Guam once the Futenma Relocation Plan is completed. MCAS Futenma, Camp Kinser and part of Camp Foster are scheduled to close.
Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said Friday the Marine Corps was not involved with the survey and referred questions to the Japanese government.
"We expect the Japanese government to take into account environmental and cultural factors, while ensuring that the Marine Corps’ operational and safety requirements are properly addressed," Rankine-Galloway said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
Construction on the airfield is expected to start in 2010. The Defense Ministry has yet to release estimated costs, but last fiscal year it allocated $50 million toward the project.
Ro Manabe, director of the ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau, said the ministry would continue to work with local governments to reach an understanding.
Environmentalist Takuma Higashionna of the Save the Dugong Network in Nago said Friday the new airfield will destroy the dugong, an endangered saltwater manatee sporadically spotted in the area.
Although none have been found in the Henoko waters where the runway is planned, the survey reported at least three sightings in surrounding waters.
"The survey was conducted while scaring dugongs away from the waters by operating boats, and setting up surveillance cameras in their passage to sea grass beds where they feed," Higashionna said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Natasha Lee contributed to this report.