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Construction on the Piedmont Pier, or Pier 12, is about to begin again after Yokosuka City officials approve an environmental plan for the project.
Construction on the Piedmont Pier, or Pier 12, is about to begin again after Yokosuka City officials approve an environmental plan for the project. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)
Construction on the Piedmont Pier, or Pier 12, is about to begin again after Yokosuka City officials approve an environmental plan for the project.
Construction on the Piedmont Pier, or Pier 12, is about to begin again after Yokosuka City officials approve an environmental plan for the project. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)
Construction on Piedmont Pier, or Pier 12, is to restart in May. Navy officials say the pier, pictured here in the background, will give the USS Kitty Hawk a better home in Yokosuka.
Construction on Piedmont Pier, or Pier 12, is to restart in May. Navy officials say the pier, pictured here in the background, will give the USS Kitty Hawk a better home in Yokosuka. (Joseph Giordono / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — An agreement to restart work on lengthening a Yokosuka pier is feeding local fears that the U.S. Navy wants a nuclear-powered carrier to replace the USS Kitty Hawk in 2008.

Work on the Piedmont Pier, or Pier 12, has been sporadic since as early as 1992, when toxins such as lead, mercury and arsenic were discovered in soil samples. As recently as 1999, officials restarted work, only to be halted again by concerns about the pollution. Last week, Yokosuka City officials announced a “conditional agreement” to resume construction, which will lengthen the pier from 277 meters to 410 meters. Final go-ahead will be given once environmental monitoring and construction plans from the Yokohama Regional Defense Facilities Administration Bureau are approved.

Navy officials say construction should begin in earnest in May, with a projected completion date in the summer of 2006. When finished, the pier will serve as the USS Kitty Hawk’s new home, though that ship is scheduled for decommissioning two years later.

“Improvements will include two new cranes — 150 and 80 tons — more space or laydown area to service the Kitty Hawk, new utility hookups, force-protection security enhancements, some support facilities such as a new carrier-dedicated SRF building, a laundromat and a picnic pavilion,” said Mike Chase, Yokosuka base spokesman.

“It will also allow the Kitty Hawk’s bow to be ‘tied off,’ which is safer than when it used to extend out far past the end of the older, shorter Piedmont Pier.”

While Navy officials stress that the improvement project began years ago and is intended for the USS Kitty Hawk, many Japanese believe the extension is being made to house a nuclear carrier in Yokosuka.

That issue still raises pulses.

A story in a prominent Japanese newspaper last week — and since denied by American and Japanese officials — cited anonymous government sources as saying an agreement had been reached to replace the Kitty Hawk with a nuclear carrier.

It caused a sensation that even reached Washington, where Navy officials quickly rebutted the story. Nevertheless, Japanese activists point to actions such as the resumption of Pier 12 work that this decision is inevitable.

“The city is just postponing the problems, and this is a problem. It is regrettable,” said Masahiko Goto, a leader of the protest group Citizens Coalition Concerning Home-Porting of a Nuclear-Powered Carrier to Yokosuka Naval Base.

Two years ago, his organization collected 70,000 signatures on a city petition demanding that a nuclear carrier never be stationed at Yokosuka.

“It would be like bringing a nuclear plant to the city,” Goto said. “Many residents are worried. If it is decided, a great majority will be against it.”

Yokosuka City officials are quick to affirm the Navy’s denials that pier construction guarantees a nuclear carrier will be stationed there.

“We are not in a position to make any comments what will happen if a nuclear carrier was based in Yokosuka,” said Fumio Suzuki of Yokosuka City’s Port and Harbor Department.

“We have also asked them, but we were told that it will be used for the existing carrier.”

According to Suzuki, the city agreed on Jan. 7 to allow the construction to resume. The delay, he says, was due to the environmental concerns.

“The biggest problem raised during the research was in regards to the soil. During the bedrock research, natural arsenic was found,” Suzuki said. “We have to put importance on environment issues. We want them to carry out the construction with environmental problems emphasized.”

Navy officials first discovered the pollution in 1989, and work on the pier project was stopped in 1992 when oil-contaminated soil came out of an excavation point.

“The U.S. Navy and the Defense Facilities Administration Agency knew ahead of time that Pier 12 was contaminated. The U.S. Navy studied the situation, DFAA restudied the situation and then determined a course of action,” Chase said.

“The philosophy here in Japan is to completely ‘entomb’ the soil with higher levels of contamination and ‘stabilize’ the soil with lower levels of contamination.”

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