Hundreds of villagers rally against Camp Schwab airport plan
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Hundreds of Ginoza village residents attended a rally Tuesday to oppose building a new Marine Corps airport on Camp Schwab.
The protest came as U.S. and Japanese officials began senior- level talks in Washington toward finalizing a plan to realign U.S. forces in Japan.
Meanwhile, Japanese officials were saying a final plan, already past an end-of-March deadline, still may be weeks away and Japanese press reports quoted unnamed officials as doubting agreement can be reached lacking local acceptance.
In a March vote, Iwakuni residents resoundingly rejected moving Navy air units from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. Local and prefectural officials have resisted the plan to move Marine air operations from MCAS Futenma to Camp Schwab.
Japan also has balked at accepting a U.S. proposal that Tokyo pay 75 percent of an estimated $10 billion to move some 8,000 Marines and dependents to Guam and mainland Japan.
Most of those in Tuesday’s rally in Ginoza cited safety issues and criticized the national government for adopting the realignment plan without first getting support of affected communities.
“The central government would push this through while ignoring the voices of local communities,” said Ginoza Mayor Hajime Higashi. “I am outraged.”
In November, the Ginoza village assembly adopted a resolution against the airport plan. Camp Schwab occupies about half of the village land.
Organizers said the rally was significant because historically, the village supports the bases. Japan pays Ginoza’s 5,000 residents about $12 million in annual base lease payments; other subsidies have provided sports and cultural facilities.
U.S. officials monitoring the rally placed the number of participants at 500, about half the crowd organizers claimed.
Closing MCAS Futenma in the heart of urban Ginowan has been on the table for 10 years. In 1996, the United States and Japan agreed to transfer Marine air operations elsewhere on Okinawa. Plans were approved a few years later to build a base on reclaimed land offshore.
That project, which drew protracted public protest, was abandoned in the middle of an environmental survey. The Camp Schwab alternative was announced in October in a bilateral agreement to realign U.S. troops in Japan.
Since then, Tokyo officials have been trying to get Okinawa officials to agree to the plan. Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro has been meeting with Defense chief Fukushiro Nukaga, including Tuesday in Tokyo. Camp Schwab is in the Nago city limits.
The two seemed to agree only that they needed further talks. “We all agreed that we would hold another meeting soon to make an effort to reach an agreement,” Nukaga said, according to a Defense Agency transcript of a news conference.
While the national government is focusing on the plan’s feasibility, he was quoted as saying, “the Nago side requested flight paths avoid the Henoko, Toyohara and Abu communities. Each side has its own views.”
No date was announced for their next meeting.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.