Okinawa governor still opposed to Schwab airstrip
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Just a day after an agreement between Nago’s mayor and Japan’s Defense chief seemed to dissolve an impasse on moving Marine Corps air operations on Okinawa to Camp Schwab, Okinawa’s governor nixed the plan.
After a 2½-hour Tokyo meeting Saturday with Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine announced he still objected to a U.S.-Japanese plan announced in October to move air operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in urban Ginowan to a new airport in rural Nago.
Amid local opposition, the United States and Japan missed a March 31 deadline for settling details of realigning U.S. troops in Japan, including building the airport on Schwab.
But Friday, Shimabukuro and village mayors accepted a compromise to remove flight plans from villages by adding a runway to the Camp Schwab plan.
“I respect the proactive decisions made by Nago and the towns and villages … but the prefecture has its own stance and will stick to it,” Inamine told reporters Saturday.
“To reduce the burden of the U.S. military presence shouldered by people of Okinawa, we will seek the most effective way to achieve our goal,” he said.
The island contains 75 percent of the land used for U.S. bases and half the U.S. troops in Japan.
Inamine reluctantly had backed the former plan to build an airport on a coral reef and reclaimed land about 2 miles off Okinawa’s northeast shore, linked by causeway to Camp Schwab. The project stalled when opponents successfully thwarted a needed environmental survey.
Ten years have passed since Japan and the United States agreed to close Futenma, citing safety concerns — which were highlighted in 2004 when a Marine helicopter crashed into university grounds next to the base.
Inamine now advocates keeping the offshore plan or moving the air station outside Okinawa. His opposition to the Camp Schwab plan is significant because as governor, he can approve or deny land reclamation projects in Okinawan waters.
Some Japanese officials have suggested that if Japan’s national government wishes to proceed with the compromise despite the governor’s opposition, it might have to pass a special law transferring that approval right to itself. A similar law was passed some 10 years ago to let Tokyo sign as a proxy for landowners who refused to renew their leases for land on U.S. bases.
After Saturday’s meeting, Nukaga said he and Inamine agreed to keep talking. “The governor is in the position of making decisions based on considerations for Okinawa as a whole, not on individual issues,” he said. “We are working toward a final agreement [with Washington] and are in the final stretch.”
U.S and Japanese officials are to resume talks in Tokyo this week on realignment plan details. One other major sticking point is the $10 billion U.S. officials say it will cost to move Marines to Guam. Tokyo bridled at Washington’s request to cover 75 percent of the cost.
U.S. officials have not been part of the Tokyo-Okinawa discussions. In the past, Marine Corps officials have stated that they favored moving air operations from Futenma as long as their operational requirements could be met at another facility on Okinawa.
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.