Yokota joint-use talks stalled
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Japan and the United States are at a standstill over joint use of the 11,000-foot runway here.
President Bush agreed in May to allow the United States to enter into talks with Japan on the feasibility of sharing the base’s flight line with civilian air traffic.
But more than four months later, the first meeting has yet to be scheduled, said Daisaku Niimi, a Tokyo Metropolitan Government official with the planning and coordination division.
But joint use continues to be one of the most important issues before the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, led by Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, Niimi said. Ishihara long has spoken out in favor of opening Yokota’s runway to civilian use.
“The Tokyo Metropolitan Government submits petitions to the Japanese government twice a year, and the issue has been presented as one of the most important aspects of the petition,” Niimi said.
The petition lists issues that Tokyo Metropolitan Government is concerned about, such as vehicle emissions. The next petition will be submitted in November to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Land, Infrastructure and Transportation Ministry and the Defense Agency.
Officials from U.S. Forces Japan, headquartered at Yokota, have declined to comment on joint use of the runway.
“It’s up to our two respective governments to engage and make the decision, and to hand down their decision to the appropriate agencies,” Marine Corps Master Sgt. Leah Gonzalez said in a written response. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for us to speculate on a time line, key issues or which agencies would be involved in the process.”
She added: “At this point, we aren’t aware of any talks taking place or scheduled to take place.”
If such a meeting were to occur, it would mark the first time both governments studied the joint-use issue formally, USFJ officials have said.
Niimi said he did not know which parties would be involved in possible talks, but thinks Ishihara should be a part of the discussion.
“Since the issue revolved around the governor’s idea, it is desirable to have his opinion reflected, if possible,” he said.
In 1999, one of Ishihara’s campaign pledges in the Tokyo gubernatorial race was “reversion of Yokota base and joint use until reversion.”
The Japanese Imperial Army built Yokota’s original airstrip; the U.S. military assumed control after World War II.
Today, the runway is one of the largest in Japan.
Japan’s government recently funded much of a $65 million project to add a reinforced, concrete surface to the airstrip, among other upgrades.
Ishihara contends that in peaceful times, there is no need to limit Yokota’s runway to military use, especially since there is a shortage of airports in the crowded Tokyo metropolitan area.
“Narita is filled, and Haneda has no choice but to expand. If Yokota was returned, it could increase the strength of Tokyo and will revitalize industrial development,” Tokyo Metropolitan Government planning division official Yoshinobu Nakajo told Stripes last year.
But such a proposal would likely be met with strong resistance by some local politicians.
Over the years, nearby residents have lodged numerous complaints about air traffic noise.
Atsuo Odagawa, head of the base liaison office at Akishima city, said Akishima lies directly below Yokota’s flight paths.
“Joint use can lead to an increase in noise, so the city is opposed to it,” Odagawa said.
The city has petitioned against such a plan since June 1999.
After the issue surfaced this spring at the U.S.-Japan summit meeting — when Bush agreed to let both governments study joint use — Akishima queried both Tokyo and Tokyo Defense Facilities Administration, but was told no progress had been made, Odagawa said.
“The city will keep watching the issue,” he said.
A Fussa city base liaison official, who would not give his name, said the city is waiting to make a decision on the issue until more details are laid out.