Tokyo, Okinawa officials to speed Camp Schwab timetable
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Christmas Day meeting in Tokyo between Okinawa and national government officials was marked by an agreement from both sides to reduce the timetable for moving Okinawan U.S. Marine air operations to Camp Schwab.
However, the details are to be worked out at a later date.
Monday’s Futenma Relocation Council meeting was the first for newly elected Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who has called for closure of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within three years.
The base is in the middle of the urban center of Ginowan. Nearby residents complain of noise and safety issues.
In August 2004 a Marine helicopter crashed at Okinawa International University, adjacent to the base. Only the crew of the helicopter was injured, but the incident caused significant damage to the school and nearby homes.
MCAS Futenma has been earmarked for closure since 1996, but the move was delayed when anti-base activists foiled a plan to build a new air station on a reef some two miles offshore in northeast Okinawa.
In May, the U.S. and Japan agreed to build a new air facility on the lower part of Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay, scheduled for completion by 2014.
According to a governor spokesman, during Monday’s meeting Nakaima restated his demand to suspend flight operations at MCAS Futenma by 2010, a promise he made during his gubernatorial campaign.
He also voiced opposition to the V-shaped design of the runways planned for Camp Schwab.
Although Nakaima expressed willingness to work with Tokyo officials on the Camp Schwab plan, he was quick to criticize Tokyo for not conferring with the communities affected by the new air facility.
“The governor asked the central government to maintain a closer dialogue with the local communities,” the spokesman said.
Japan Defense Agency General Director Fumio Kyuma said there may be ways to slash three years off construction.
He said the U.S. and Japan would discuss shortening the time it would take to complete an environmental assessment of the two planned runways.
“Throughout the meeting, I keenly felt the need to move operations from Futenma at the earliest possible time,” Kyuma told reporters. “I received it as a very strong message.”
Compressing the relocation schedule for Marine air operations to Camp Schwab will be high on the agenda for the next so-called “two-plus-two” meeting between Kyuma and Foreign Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The meeting is planned for sometime after the Jan. 25 meeting of Japan’s Diet.