Nago City Council resolution rejects Camp Schwab airport
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Nago City Council on Monday rejected a plan to build an airport on Camp Schwab, one of several stands local community and prefectural governments have taken in recent days in opposition to a proposed realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.
A resolution, addressed to the U.S. and Japan governments, states that the plan to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and move helicopter operations to a new airport to be built on Camp Schwab, within the Nago city limits, would pose a danger to the nearby communities.
The city had favored a plan to build a replacement for MCAS Futenma on reclaimed land and an offshore reef. But that plan was scrapped in a preliminary bilateral report on realigning U.S. troops in Japan issued Oct. 29.
The new plan calls for an airport to be built on the lower part of Camp Schwab, extending into the shallow waters of Oura Wan Bay. The task of refueling MCAS Futenma aircraft would be transferred to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni or a Japanese Self-Defense Force base in Kagoshima, on the southern tip of Kyushu.
Yoshifusa Miyagi, Nago City Council chairman, said the proposed flight path was the sticking point for the council members, who voted 26-2 in favor of the resolution.
“According to the new plan, aircraft are expected to fly over many local communities,” he said. “The concern of our residents concentrated on this point. They also are concerned about the noise and fear the possibility of accidents.”
The crash of a Marine helicopter on a university campus adjacent to MCAS Futenma in August has Nago residents afraid they would be endangered by the Camp Schwab plan.
“We believed that the offshore project was within permissible limits because the impact was anticipated to be minimal,” Miyagi said. “But this revised plan contains a serious problem in its flight route."
Council members also were upset that U.S. and Japanese officials didn’t consult anyone on Okinawa before issuing the realignment plan, Miyagi said.
“We cannot help but to give way to anger over the decision, which was made in disregard of the wishes of local residents,” the Nago resolution states. “Moreover, the location of the revised airport facility is too close to residential areas. The planned flight route covers many local communities.”
Miyagi said council members delivered the resolution Tuesday to the Defense Facilities Administration Naha Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Okinawa Liaison Office and the U.S. Consulate on Okinawa.
Meanwhile, Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito met with Defense Chief Fukushiro Nukaga Monday and expressed his opposition to the transfer of the Marine refueling aircraft to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Kanoya base.
According to Japanese press reports, he also met with Nukaga on Monday and told him he could not accept the plan if Okinawa opposes it. Kanoya city also has refused to host the refueling planes.
“The realignment of U.S. forces started from the premise of alleviating Okinawa’s burden,” Ito said. “So we cannot agree to any plan that cannot get Okinawa’s understanding.”
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine already has voiced his displeasure, calling for the Marine air station to be built anywhere but Okinawa.
In Yamaguchi prefecture, Gov. Sekinari Nii and Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara both recently stated their opposition to relocating carrier aircraft from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
Also Monday, several Japanese legislators asked the Foreign Ministry’s Security Treaty Division to negotiate with the U.S. government again for an option of basing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Yokosuka Naval Base. They also want the ministry to ask the U.S. for access to reactor information.
The USS Kitty Hawk, a conventionally powered carrier and the oldest active-duty warship in the U.S. fleet, is scheduled to be replaced at Yokosuka in 2008. The Pentagon has said a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carrier will take the Kitty Hawk’s place in Japan.
U.S. and Japanese officials say they understand local opposition to the realignment plan, but stress it is necessary for the stability of the region.
“Japan’s prosperity is based on peace and security,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said last week. “Japan has to pay the necessary costs for it.”