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A spill gate at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, was installed last month to prevent contaminated water from reaching Japanese land should a spill occur.
A spill gate at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, was installed last month to prevent contaminated water from reaching Japanese land should a spill occur. (Roy Miller / Courtesy of U.S. Navy)
A spill gate at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, was installed last month to prevent contaminated water from reaching Japanese land should a spill occur.
A spill gate at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, was installed last month to prevent contaminated water from reaching Japanese land should a spill occur. (Roy Miller / Courtesy of U.S. Navy)
Workers assemble some of the gate’s final pieces.
Workers assemble some of the gate’s final pieces. (Roy Miller / Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — It’s bright blue — apropos for a Navy base — and is aimed at saving communities around Atsugi some headaches should a fuel truck overturn or a fluid line rupture.

Atsugi has a new spill gate, believed to be the largest in Japan, at the ready in case of such disasters. It’s designed to slam down and stop any liquid in the Tade River on base from seeping off, said Roy Miller, environmental protection specialist.

“If we have a little incident on base,” such as spilling jet fuel, oil or fire extinguishing foam, he said, “I simply release the mechanism and gravity lowers the gate.”

The river then would back up behind the massive steel gate, he said, floating dangerous chemicals to the surface, where the base’s skimmers could suck them up.

Miller said he doesn’t expect a spill — they’re uncommon — but they’re bad for the environment and, without a plug to stop the flow, can spread quickly.

“We don’t want to release contaminated water onto Japanese land. That’s bad,” Miller said. A short distance away, the river trickles through rice paddies, he added.

He said he asked for the spill gate after arriving on the job in April 2004. It was completed last month.

“There was just no gate there,” he recalled. “That was my exact response: ‘Why is that not here?’”

A short distance away, the base maintains gallons of chemicals and fluids needed to maintain an air wing and its aircraft. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has its own fuels and aircraft nearby.

In justifying the cost — $277,000, which the base paid — Miller told base officials that in addition to a steel door to stop the water flow, the spill gate also would feature a sturdy steel grate to stop someone from sneaking on base through the river. It replaced a lesser grate.

The roughly 10-by-12-foot gate was built within budget by Mitsui Engineering Shipbuilding Co. and is expected to last 30 or more years, Miller said.

With the safety mechanism in place, he said, the community is safer and chances of causing concern to off-base neighbors are lessened.

The gate initially was to be painted red.

“I said, ‘No way,’” said Miller — although as a former Marine he is partial to red. “‘We’re on a Navy base. It has to be blue.’”

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