Iwakuni mayor is urged to allow aircraft move from Atsugi
The Iwakuni City Council on Friday urged Mayor Katsusuke Ihara to accept a plan to move U.S. carrier-based aircraft to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni from Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
The council’s resolution is in support of an agreement signed by the U.S. and Japan last May to realign U.S. forces in Japan. Part of the plan calls for relocating Atsugi-based Carrier Air Wing 5 squadrons to MCAS Iwakuni by 2014.
Ihara has been a staunch opponent of the plan. In March 2006, he sponsored a citywide referendum in which the majority of voters rejected the transfer. Of 48,802 voters, 43,433 — or 88.9 percent — opposed it. The next month, Ihara was re-elected mayor, reaffirming public support of his position.
The city council on Friday called for the mayor to be “more realistic” and enter into negotiations with Tokyo in order to get the best deal for noise abatement measures and subsidies.
“Iwakuni is in a geopolitically important location and is destined to contribute to the national security and stability of our Asian neighbors,” said Hiroaki Maeno, one of the five council members who proposed the resolution, which passed by a vote of 22 to 11.
Maeno said Ihara’s strategy of flatly refusing the plan brings no benefits to the people of Iwakuni.
“It is the role of the mayor to sit at the negotiation table and convey the voices of citizens,” he said.
The central government announced earlier this year that municipalities that accept additional U.S. military facilities, operations and troops would receive subsidies commensurate with the size and magnitude of the burden.
“Our city is in deep financial trouble,” Maeno said, adding that Tokyo has promised 3.5 billion yen (about $30 million) in subsidies in exchange for accepting the realignment. “The subsidies are crucial for our city’s finances.”
Opponents of the plan say Friday’s resolution will not make the mayor change his mind. “We understand that the resolution was brought about because of t
e city’s severe financial situation,” said Jungen Tamura, a city council member who added that making Iwakuni a hub for U.S. military aircraft was simply too much.
“There are currently 50 aircraft stationed at Iwakuni air station,” he said. “In addition, refueling aircraft from (the Marine Corps’) Futenma air station would move to Iwakuni through realignment. If carrier-based aircraft from Atsugi are added, everything would be concentrated on Iwakuni.
“ ‘Enough is enough,’ is the voice of the residents,” he said.
However, Ihara said that he would take the resolution seriously, said Tatsuya Matsubayashi, chief of the city’s military affairs office. “I will further deepen negotiations with the government and review the issue from various angles,” Ihara said, according to Matsubayashi. “While sharing information with citizens and city council members, I will seek a direction for a solution.”