OKINAWA CITY — The relocation of an airplane maintenance and wash operation on Kadena Air Base is a small but necessary step closer.

Okinawa City Mayor Masakazu Nakasone on Friday announced his approval of allowing what is known as the Navy Ramp to move to part of the base falling within his city’s boundary.

However, no time has been set for the transfer.

“The Navy Ramp relocation on Kadena Air Base is a matter of continuing discussions between the U.S. government and government of Japan,” said Masao Doi, spokesman for Kadena’s 18th Wing. The talks date to the Special Action Committee on Okinawa agreement, he said.

That 1996 U.S.-Japan pact, which focused on reducing land used by U.S. bases on Okinawa by 21 percent, called for relocating Navy aircraft operations and supporting facilities.

“There’s a lot of moving parts, and discussions are continuing,” Doi said in a news release issued Friday afternoon. “Since no final decisions have been reached, it would be premature for us to brief out the details.

“Kadena officials remain sensitive to the concerns of the surrounding communities regarding our flight line operations,” he added. “With this in mind, we have made significant contributions by installing berms, a sound wall and implementing other noise abatement measures.”

The mayor said moving the Navy Ramp to the other side of the runways would ease noise and pollution complaints by Yara District residents in Kadena who live close to the base’s fence line.

Now, he said, the facility is just 165 feet “from the closest vicinity of the Yara community. And the noise level there is at 80 decibels, the same as a highway with heavy traffic.” If the facility is moved further inside the air base, Nakasone said, the nearest houses would be about 0.9 miles away and the noise level should be 50 decibels — “about the same as a quiet office.”

“As one of the three municipalities that jointly host the air base,” Nakasone said, “I believe that it is our responsibility to cooperate each other to reduce the burden on residents.”

The Okinawa City mayor’s Kadena counterpart welcomed the decision heartily.

“The move would help reduce to some extent the level of aircraft noise the local community has long suffered from,” said Kadena Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi. Relocating the maintenance area also would eliminate the spraying of aircraft wash water onto nearby homes, he said. “We believe that there would be no impact on residents of Okinawa City by moving the activity to a new location.”

“Something good has happened, making me feel real good this morning,” the Kadena mayor said.

Miyagi said he first addressed the problem in 1995 when he spoke to U.S. officials in Washington. “It has long been our desire to have the facility moved further away from out community,” he said.

On June 26, the Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau notified Okinawa City that the mayor’s approval was needed for the relocation.

The city formally gave its approval Thursday. As part of the deal, Okinawa City asked the government of Japan for money for several city projects, including Koza Athletic Park improvements and a multipurpose plaza to be built next to the park.

But Nakasone called such government subsidies “a secondary issue.”

“The primarily importance is that there are people who have long suffered by having this facility located so close to their community,” he said. “We should work and cooperate together to alleviate the burden these people have shouldered.

“Of course it would be the best if the facility was moved elsewhere outside Okinawa,” he added.

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