Okinawa governor insists Futenma must relocate off the island
By HOWARD WITT | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 20, 2011
WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Japanese governments have repeatedly promised to move forward with plans to relocate a controversial U.S. Marine Corps helicopter station from a populated urban area of Okinawa to a more remote location on the island.
But Okinawa’s governor took pains to remind Washington and Tokyo on Tuesday that he’s firmly opposed to the relocation plan — and without his approval, it can’t happen.
Instead, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima told reporters in Washington that the controversial Marine Corps Air Station Futenma should be moved off of Okinawa entirely, to some other alternative location in Japan.
“There are other locations,” Nakaima said. “We should select one of these options as an alternative. In order to move this issue forward, it’s better to relocate the base to some other prefecture than Okinawa.”
Nakaima did not specify where he thinks the Futenma helicopter base could be moved, but he ruled out the idea of relocating it to the huge U.S. Air Force base at Kadena.
For more than 60 years, Nakaima said, residents living near Kadena have had to endure the noise and environmental degradation associated with the air base and they will not accept any additional operations there.
Nearly three-quarters of all U.S. forces stationed in Japan are concentrated on Okinawa, Nakaima added, and the island already bears “an excessive burden” in the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
“There are many bases of the Marine Corps — training bases, restricted air space, firing ranges, live ammunition exercises,” Nakaima noted. “Helicopters are landing and taking off all the time.”
The governor said he was visiting Washington to attend a university conference. But his visit coincided with scheduled meetings in New York this week between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba, where the ongoing Futenma saga will be on the agenda.
The two governments have been attempting to relocate the Futenma helicopter base for 15 years as part of a complex multi-stage redeployment of U.S. forces that is intended both to relocate Marine Corps operations from densely populated urban areas and reduce the overall U.S. footprint on the island.
But the proposed site for the new Marine helicopter base, at Camp Schwab in Henoko on the northern end of the island, has provoked fierce opposition from residents there because of the environmental damage they predict will result to sensitive ocean ecosystems in the area.
Under Japan’s laws, Nakaima must approve land reclamation and runway construction projects that are integral parts of the Camp Schwab plan, giving him an effective veto over the plan. He alluded to that power on Tuesday.
“We are basically deadlocked,” Nakaima said. “The cooperation and understanding of the local government is essential. This is something the Japanese government must take into account.”