CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — As the deadline approaches for finalizing details of a bilateral agreement to realign U.S. troops in Japan, Okinawa officials are trying desperately to change the part of the plan calling for building an airstrip on Camp Schwab’s coastal tip.

Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro and other city officials met with Defense Agency Chief Fukushiro Nukaga this week for two days of talks on the issue.

Camp Schwab lies in the city limits of Nago, on Okinawa’s rural northeast coast. Nago officials want the air facility, planned to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located farther from nearby villages.

They failed to get Nukaga to agree, although he later characterized their talk as good and in-depth; he called Shimabukuro “a worthy opponent.”

Said Akio Watai, a Defense Agency spokesman: “The Nago mayor presented a plan proposed by the Nago City Council, which they call a ‘variation.’ However, their plan was to build the airport facility farther into the ocean.” Nukaga refused, the spokesman said, “because it would create environmental problems.”

The Camp Schwab plan was announced in October along with a sweeping realignment outline that would greatly change the footprint of U.S. forces on Okinawa. It calls for moving from 7,000 to 8,000 Marines to Guam and mainland Japan and closing most of the U.S. bases south of Kadena Air Base.

However, U.S. officials have said the plan relies on moving air operations from MCAS Futenma, in urban Ginowan, to Camp Schwab. The new air facility would be built on the camp and stretch over landfill into Oura Bay.

It replaces a plan adopted years ago to build an offshore air station on a coral reef and reclaimed land some two miles from the northeast coast. Environmentalists opposed that plan and blocked an environmental survey of the area.

Nukaga said, however, that he hadn’t ruled our making “minor changes” to the plan.

U.S. and Japan officials have set the end of this month as the deadline for finalizing details of the realignment plan.

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