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Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro speaks to reporters following his swearing-in on Wednesday.
Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro speaks to reporters following his swearing-in on Wednesday. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

NAGO, Okinawa — Yoshikazu Shimabukuro was sworn in as Nago’s new mayor Wednesday, promising to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor on matters that include opposition to a planned new Marine air operations facility on Camp Schwab.

“I am fully aware that I am here as a successor of Mayor (Tateo) Kishimoto,” Shimabukuro said during a brief ceremony in Nago. “I pledge my effort for the further growth of the city and the well-being of our citizens.”

Shimabukuro was elected in January in a three-way race, garnering more votes than his opponents combined. Although all three candidates opposed a plan to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a new facility on Camp Schwab in a rural area of Nago, he was the only candidate to express his willingness to discuss alternatives with the central government.

“If the central government proposes a modified plan, I would review it while consulting with the local community,” he told reporters during an impromptu news conference. “My primary responsibility is to protect the lives and property of our citizens.”

Shimabukuro said he opposes the plan to build a new facility for Marine air operations on Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay because the flight path would be over some homes in nearby villages.

“As Mayor Kishimoto has said, it is unacceptable,” he said. “The residents have voiced their concern about the expected high levels of noise. From an environmental aspect, the current plan is not acceptable.”

Relocating Marine air assets from MCAS Futenma, in urban Ginowan, to the rural northeast coast of Okinawa is a major part of a plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan. Under the plan announced in October, fixed- wing refueling aircraft would be relocated to U.S. and Japan Self-Defense Force bases in mainland Japan and helicopter units would be moved to Camp Schwab.

U.S. officials have said the Camp Schwab proposal is key to the realignment plan on Okinawa. Contingent on the move is transferring some 7,000 Marines off Okinawa, some 6,000 of them to Guam.

U.S. and Japanese officials said they will hammer out realignment details by the end of March but affected communities on Okinawa and mainland Japan have objected.

“The stance Mayor Kishimoto took on the relocation issue is the stance I will take,” Shimabukuro said.

Kishimoto had supported a proposal to build a Marine air station some 2 miles offshore on reclaimed land and a reef. That plan was abandoned in the face of active, sustained protests from anti-base and environmental groups.

Five of the environmentalists attempted to hand Shimabukuro a petition Wednesday urging the new mayor to refuse any replacement facility in their city limits.

The new mayor ignored them.

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