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U.S. to return Yokohama land to Japan

By VINCE LITTLE AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 5, 2004

TOKYO — The U.S. military has agreed to return about 939 acres of base land in Yokohama to the Japanese government, the largest land return in more than 30 years on mainland Japan, officials confirmed Friday.

Officials from both countries also agreed that Japan would build 700 additional housing units at the U.S. Navy’s Ikego housing area instead of the 800 units agreed upon last year.

U.S. Forces Japan officials confirmed the agreement Friday, stating in a news release they would take the “necessary actions” to expedite the return.

The Japanese Defense Facilities Administration Agency presented the agreement to Yokohama city on Friday.

Both Japanese and U.S. officials said the agreement remains subject to approval by the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee and the handover would begin once the areas are no longer needed.

The areas include the Fukaya Communication Site, Tomioka Storage Area and a portion of the Kamiseya Communication Station, along with a segment of the Ikego Housing Area and Navy Annex in Yokohama City. Kamiseya’s housing and support facilities won’t be returned until their use has been exhausted. USFJ officials said they’d monitor their need for the Koshiba Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Depot, which also may be returned at some point. The land represents more than 70 percent of U.S. military land in Yokohama city.

The Negishi Dependent Housing Area will be returned to Japan after the construction of housing and support facilities at Ikego, USFJ officials said.

The American half of the Facilities Assessment Panel was led by Army Col. Larry McCallister, USFJ director of logistics. The panel is a mix of U.S. and Japanese agencies that’s conducted talks over Kanagawa Prefecture, housing-construction requests and land-return issues.

The panel reached the agreement Thursday during its third official meeting, said Air Force Col. Victor Warzinski, USFJ spokesman.

“It’s been part of a long-term discussion,” he added. “At our second meeting in July last year, we talked about our requirement of additional family housing down in Yokosuka. We laid out exactly what we wanted and where, and also talked about various land returns. Basically, we said we would return this land when it’s no longer needed, on the premise that local governments understand the need to construct additional housing for our military people.

“We don’t project future requirements for those facilities. As we complete our requirements, there are no future plans to use the lands in question.”

Yokohama City Mayor Hiroshi Nakada suggested last month that the Japanese government should build fewer housing units at Ikego.

Warzinski said the demand for new housing construction at the Ikego residential area was dropped by 100 units “in response to local sensitivities."

“We agreed to reduce it based on a request from the Yokohama mayor," he said.

Zushi city officials are opposed to additional housing at Ikego and say the construction breaks a 1994 promise between the national government and Kanagawa prefecture that would prevent additional facilities. However, the national government claims that since the housing will be built on the Yokohama side of Ikego, they’re not breaking the promise.

“I have submitted a bill to enter a legal action against the [Japanese] government to the city council and there is no change in our existing policy,” Zushi city Mayor Kazuyoshi Nagashima said Thursday.

No timetable has been set for return of the lands, Warzinski added.