Number of new military housing units in Ikego forest area set to be reduced

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Japan and the United States on Thursday agreed to reduce the number of U.S. military housing units to be built in the Ikego forest area in Kanagawa Prefecture.

It was also agreed that the U.S. would return more land held by U.S. forces in a bid to get the controversial housing project started.

The agreement included most of the requests made by Yokohama Mayor Hiroshi Nakata last month.

In July 2003, Tokyo and Washington agreed to build 800 additional housing units for the U.S. military in the Ikego forest area, which straddles Yokohama and the city of Zushi, in exchange for the return of four vacant military facilities in Yokohama.

The new housing units are to be built on the Yokohama side. Despite strong local opposition, about 800 U.S. military housing units were built between 1987 and 1998 in the Zushi region of the 290-hectare Ikego area, 85 percent of which sits in Zushi.

Nakata, along with Zushi Mayor Kazuyoshi Nagashima, had initially protested the housing plan outright, arguing that the return of the U.S. facilities should be unconditional in accordance with a law that stipulates the U.S. must return facilities and land to Japan when they are no longer being used by its forces.

But Nakata said in early August that he would be willing to accept the new housing units if the U.S. returned additional land and facilities in Yokohama, including the Koshiba oil storage facility, and reduced the number of proposed housing units.

In a meeting Thursday, Japanese officials explained to the U.S. side that there was “strong local concern” over the construction of the new complex, and submitted the Yokohama mayor’s proposals, according to an official of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.

The U.S. side agreed to reduce the number of new housing units by 100 to 700 and return an additional three sites to the city of Yokohama, the official said.

The land and facilities to be returned are the 53-hectare Koshiba oil storage facility, 1.2 hectares of land in Ikego and 50 hectares of the Kamiseya communications complex. With the additional concessions, all the Kamiseya facilities will be returned to Japan.

In a statement Thursday, Nakata welcomed the agreement, saying: “The (central) government acted sincerely” after listening to the Yokohama proposal. But he added that he needs to consult with the people of Yokohama, especially those living near the Ikego area, before making any further comments.

Nakata will meet representatives from the Defense Facilities Administration Agency on Friday, which is in charge of the maintenance and administration of U.S. military facilities, to discuss Thursday’s agreement.

The same day, Zushi Mayor Kazuyoshi Nagashima released a statement saying that his city will not change its plan to file a lawsuit against the central government to stop the U.S. housing construction in Ikego.

Zushi has argued that the plan contravenes a 1994 agreement between the city, Kanagawa Prefecture and Tokyo that there would be no expansion of U.S. military housing in the Ikego forest.

Tokyo insists that the plan is not a breach of the 1994 agreement because the site is within Yokohama city limits.