Okinawa city presses for rejection of Futenma move
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 27, 2013
NAHA, Okinawa — The city of Nago asked the Okinawa government Wednesday to reject a U.S.-Japan plan to build a new military airfield on its outskirts as a replacement base for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Mayor Susumu Inamine and the Nago city council have come out strongly against the new off-shore runways planned at Camp Schwab. The request may sway a crucial upcoming decision by the Okinawa governor on whether to approve needed construction permits.
The United States and Japan struck a deal in 2006 to relocate Futenma operations from an urban center to an area farther north in hopes of easing public angst over Marine aircraft mishaps and noise. But a final hurdle remains — Tokyo and Washington must get the approval of Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima before breaking ground on the runways.
After balking at the project for years, the governor is now reviewing it and said he will consider Nago’s position before issuing any permits to build in coastal waters.
On Wednesday, Inamine visited Nakaima in the island capital of Naha to personally deliver the city’s declaration of opposition.
“I submit today my opinion together with the earnest desires and wishes of the majority of citizens who are against the reclamation plan,” Inamine said.
The mayor first issued his decision last week, and a majority of the Nago council supported the move during a vote Friday.
Noise and safety concerns over the use of MV-22 Osprey aircraft at the new facility were among the top reasons for the rejection, according to a written statement by the mayor.
Inamine claimed the Osprey flight operations currently do not heed a U.S.-Japan accord that requires the Marines to avoid flying low and transitioning the aircraft from helicopter to airplane whenever possible while over urban areas.
Recent crashes and questions over the Osprey’s safety record first surfaced when the U.S. announced plans to deploy the high-tech hybrid aircraft to Okinawa last year and have not dissipated. Despite the skepticism over safety, the two squadrons based at Futenma now run missions throughout the region, including relief operations in Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan.
The mayor also said the construction of the offshore V-shaped runways could damage the ocean environment and disturb the endangered dugong, a relative of the manatee that has been spotted in the area in recent years.
The governor and Okinawa prefectural government have so far declined to comment on how the Nago decision will factor into the decision on construction permits for the airfield.
The Japan Ministry of Defense filed an application for reclamation work earlier this year along with a voluminous environmental study that found the project would do little harm to the coastal environment around Nago.
At the time, Nakaima said he planned to complete a review of the application around the end of December and make a decision on the permits.
But a prefecture spokesman said the review is ongoing and the Nago concerns could delay any final decision.
“After closely examining the opinion, there might be a need for us to send questions to the Ministry of Defense, which would require further time for us to complete our review,” he said.
Tokyo and Washington both claim there is no Plan B for relocating Futenma. If Okinawa rejects the reclamation work, the Tokyo government could decide to force the project through with special legislation in the Diet, the national legislature.