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IWAKUNI MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Japan — The facilities planners reviewing outlines of the massive project to relocate Iwakuni’s runway onto reclaimed land realized that by making a few tweaks — flipping two areas in the proposed plans — they could salvage 150 acres of land that otherwise would have been unusable.

The changes, approved in May by the project’s financier, the government of Japan, won’t change the overall size, shape, cost or time line of the decade-long project, said Navy Civil Engineer Corps Cmdr. David J. Sasek, facilities officer for the station.

Instead, by moving an ordnance storage area from its current location on the northern end of the runway to the south, planners could reclaim more space in the north.

Safety regulations require that a certain amount of space — an arch of safety — cushion stored ordnance. Very little can be built in that area.

By moving the ordnance to the south, that arch will extend over more water than land, including over Penny Lake and a future retention pond. The previous plans place the arch mostly over land.

The difference gives back 150 acres of land — 10 percent of the base’s current 1,500 acres, Sasek said.

It’s not added space, he said — it’s more effective land use within the original area for the project.

The ordnance area will be swapped with the other feature in the new plan, the Marine Aircraft Group 12 operations area.

Iwakuni’s runway relocation project began in 1996 after years of negotiations with the government of Japan. It’s now expected to be ready in March 2009.

The project involves building a swath of land for the runway out into the water, and transporting dirt from nearby 360-foot Mount Atago along a conveyer belt to the new location. The new strip, planned to be 8,000 feet long, will allow aircraft to fly away from populated areas and a petroleum plant, hopefully reducing noise complaints and the risk of accidents.

The project enlarges the station by 533 acres.

One of the immediate benefits of the new plan is saving the popular Gunn Park. The park was due to close this month until the relocation project was completed. It then would have reopened in the southern portion of the project.

Instead, the current park will stay open for a few years, until the project is closer to completion. When it does close, it will move to an area in the north where it possibly could have more space or facilities.

Planners haven’t hashed out plans for the newly salvaged 150 acres. The park will move there, but other details are still in the air.

“There are a lot of small implications that we’re still working through,” Sasek said.

Swapping two areas sounds simple enough, he added, but it took incredible effort. Changing the original plans, which were drawn up a decade ago, took six months of intensive planning and negotiations with Japanese leaders, who were worried the changes would mean a larger-sized, more expensive project.

“It was no small effort,” Sasek said. “We worked for six months to develop it and work through the issues.”

He adds that the waters included in the safety arch for the ordnance all are within the area of sole U.S. jurisdiction, so it won’t extend beyond the station’s limits.

The rest of the project is still on track, Sasek said. This winter, a new port will open since the new runway will be built over the current port. That will account for about a third of the total project.

Builders currently are moving about 9,000 cubic meters a day. The entire project will require moving 22 million cubic meters of earth and materials, Sasek said.


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