Japanese officials at odds over request to shift Schwab runways
August 22, 2008
NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and Japan’s new defense minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, remain at odds over the construction of a new airport to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
During Hayashi’s first visit to Okinawa since being named defense minister earlier this month, Nakaima again requested that the two runways to be built on the lower part of Camp Schwab and extend into Oura Bay be located a bit further offshore.
In a meeting Tuesday at the governor’s Naha office, Hayashi said it would be difficult to move the V-shaped runways without a "rational reason," according to local media reports.
He did not elaborate on what he considers a rational reason.
Hayashi did say he would do everything possible to facilitate the move of Marine air operations to Camp Schwab and close MCAS Futenma, which is located in a heavily developed urban area. Nakaima asked flight operations at MCAS Futenma end within three years.
Hayashi said he is awaiting the results of a flight pattern survey of the air station scheduled to begin next week.
"After we conduct the survey, if the results indicate various measures are necessary to take place, we must tackle ... them squarely," Hayashi said, according to media reports.
The move of Marine air operations to Schwab is key to the May 2006 bilateral agreement to realign U.S. forces in Japan. The plan includes the eventual move of some 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam.
Nakaima said he welcomed the defense minister’s visit.
"The earnest wish of people of Okinawa is to reduce the heavy burden of the U.S. military presence," he told Hayashi, according to press accounts. "I would like to exchange candid opinions with you."
On Wednesday, Hayashi was to briefly meet with Marine officials on Schwab in the morning, prior to visiting local mayors and other officials. In the afternoon he was to meet with people who live near MCAS Futenma and visit Okinawa Memorial Peace Prayer Park to pay his respects to those who died during the Battle of Okinawa at the end of World War II.
Hayashi’s visit comes at a time of increasing opposition on Okinawa to what is called the Futenma Relocation Project. In June the ruling parties that backed Nakaima lost control of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly and the new majority passed a nonbinding resolution requesting the relocation plan be scrapped altogether for environmental and safety reasons.