Solution to MCAS Futenma relocation dispute proposed
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A slight move seaward and a northward tilt of the runway could settle a dispute over plans to move Marine Corps air operations on Okinawa to Camp Schwab.
In ongoing discussions with Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro in Tokyo over the weekend, Japan Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga suggested moving the facility’s runway a tad farther into the sea.
Moving the runway, and perhaps tilting the L-shaped runway layout a bit, would move proposed flight paths farther from local villages in the rural districts of Nago, along Okinawa’s northeast coast, Nukaga has said.
Shimabukuro has favored moving the runway 450 meters (about 1,500 feet) into Oura Bay. Nukaga has offered to move it 100 meters (328 feet) and tilt the runway’s direction about 10 degrees counterclockwise.
That would take the flight path away from the communities of Henoko, Toyohara, Abu and Kayo and redirect it northward over the Kanucha Bay Resort.
“We have made a certain progress, and I believe that we come to a conclusion at earliest possible time,” Nukaga told reporters Sunday.
“I acknowledge his concern about the flight routes that cover airspace in residential area,” he said. “We will review [Shimabukuro’s] request from technical standpoints to see if we could give maximum consideration to his concern before our next meeting.”
He said rejiggering the runway position would have to be balanced with safety and environmental concerns. Part of the air station would be built on reclaimed land in Oura Bay.
Nukaga and Shimabukuro were to resume their talks Wednesday in Tokyo.
Construction of the new air station is a key part of a bilateral agreement announced in October to realign U.S. troops in Japan. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the middle of urban Ginowan, has been slated for closure since 1996 on the condition a new base be built elsewhere on Okinawa.
A site was selected about two miles offshore, to be attached to Camp Schwab by a causeway, but opponents in a fleet of small boats and canoes effectively prevented completion of an environmental survey of the area.
Last week construction contractors working on that project were told officially it was scrapped. The Defense Facilities Administration Agency, which spent $16.9 million on the project, announced 20 contracts with 13 contractors null and void.
Under the realignment plan, Marine air operations would be moved to Camp Schwab and headquarters of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, including about 7,000 Marines, would move to Guam. About 1,000 Marines would be transferred elsewhere in Japan.
Also, Camp Kinser and the Naha Military Port would be closed, along with part of Camp Foster.
The two sides agreed in October to hash out details of the realignment plan by the end of March. Some officials in Tokyo said recently that “early April” is a more probable date, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Monday that he hoped both sides could still meet the April 1 deadline, according to a Kyodo news report.
The sticking point has been the cost of moving the Marines to Guam. U.S. officials contend the move will cost $10 billion and have asked Japan to pick up 75 percent of the cost. Tokyo officials balked at the figure and proposed loaning up to $3 billion to U.S. companies to build new housing for the Marines and their families on Guam.
On Sunday, Taku Yamasaki, a key member of the Liberal Democratic Party, said during an appearance on a Fuji TV news show that Japan might be willing to pay half the $10 billion.