Safety measures causing parking squeeze at Misawa
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — The new landscaping buttressing 13 towers here is intended to keep terrorists with car bombs at bay.
But safety comes at a price: in this case, parking — or lack thereof.
Mandated by the Air Force after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the force-protection measures include low walls topped with dirt and grass around each tower’s perimeter, keeping cars at least 50 feet away and reducing available parking for tower residents.
That means for mothers such as Marcella Melton, walking from her car to Tower 1939 with three young children in tow can seem like miles.
“Sometimes we’d rather just go driving until something opens up,” she said.
Despite the inconvenience and the dread of trudging through the snow this winter, Melton and other tower residents are encouraged that the base’s senior leader is trying to alleviate their predicament.
“He is really trying to solve everybody’s concerns,” Melton said.
Brig. Gen. Bill Rew, 35th Fighter Wing and Misawa installation commander, is visiting each tower individually in a series of nightly meetings that started last week.
“I don’t want you all to worry about getting tickets, and I don’t want you to worry about walking through the snow two miles each way from your car,” Rew told about 30 residents of Tower 1939 on Monday night. “There’s nothing we can do about 9/11 and the force-protection procedures in place, but there is something we can do about the current situation.”
Tower 1939 was hit the hardest: The new landscaping slashed available parking from 133 to 65 spots, although the tower currently has 96 spaces with nearby on-street parking. There are 68 units in the tower.
“I couldn’t find a spot here so I went across the street,” Rew said about his attempt to park at the tower before the meeting.
Unfortunately, he said, it will take millions of dollars in Military Family Housing funds — money the wing doesn’t have — to permanently remedy the problem by laying down asphalt for more parking lots.
But there are some creative, short-term fixes the general has in mind.
“I don’t want to do any of this stuff without talking to your first,” he told tower residents.
With 35th Civil Engineer Commander Lt. Col. Dave Maharrey and other senior leaders also in attendance, Rew said those ideas include converting nearby tennis and basketball courts into temporary parking. Parking on the tennis courts, minus the nets, would boost parking by about 50 spaces, Rew said, while basketball court parking would add another 32.
“What I don’t know is how much the basketball and tennis courts get used,” Rew said.
Military dependent and tower resident Laphelia Thomas said children would have to cross the street to play basketball if the tower court was made into parking.
“I don’t agree with that,” she said.
But other short-term solutions were less appealing to residents, such as reducing parking spaces to 2.3 meters from 2.5 meters. Angled parking on the streets also was suggested, but base officials said roadways then would not be wide enough for safe traffic flow and snow removal. Designated parking spaces also would not work, Rew said, “because I can’t even give one per tower occupant for what you have.”
“If there was a simple answer, we would have done it a long time ago,” Rew said. “I don’t have a lot of money; I have a lot of paint, and I have some construction capability.”
A hand count at the end of the hour-long meeting showed unanimous approval for conversion of only the tennis courts into parking. Rew said he would talk to Maharrey “and price that option out.”
For the long term — five to six years down the road — base officials are considering converting the tennis and basketball courts and playground into permanent parking, and eliminating the street parking, to provide 182 spaces for the tower. That number includes two parking spaces per unit, two handicapped slots and six for visitors.
In total, 368 parking spots for 13 towers on base were lost due to anti-terrorism landscaping, according to Maharrey. But 53 since have been regained through on-street parking in the North Area and at Towers 115 and 116, he noted.
“In addition, we have begun adding back about another 120 with some creative parking solutions,” he said in a written statement.
The tower force-protection project started about a year ago and is to finish this spring, according to base officials.
Rew was to meet with residents at two more towers Tuesday; his last meeting is Monday at 7 p.m. in Tower 1935.