Japan’s bill for marine move may hit $3.5 billion

Kyodo

Japan and the United States have began making adjustments to increase to $3.5 billion from $2.8 billion the costs Tokyo will shoulder to transfer U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, sources said.

The two governments agreed in 2009 on Japan’s contribution of $2.8 billion to cover the cost of constructing buildings for a command center and other facilities, including schools, on the Pacific island.

But in bilateral talks that began in February, the United States asked Japan to increase its cost-sharing under growing pressure from Congress to cut expenditures.

Japan, which initially resisted the move, has since relented to preserve the harmony of the bilateral alliance, the sources said.

As a result of the ongoing review, the number of marines to be moved from Okinawa to Guam is expected to be reduced to 4,200 from 4,700, while the number of marines to remain in Okinawa is expected to reach 11,300, well above the 10,000 threshold confirmed by the two countries in February.

The two countries had agreed in 2006 to move 8,000 of the 18,000 marines in Okinawa to another location. Given the projected reduction in the personnel to be moved — roughly by half — questions could arise in Japan about increasing the country’s share of costs.

Aside from the 4,200 marines who would move to Guam from Okinawa, a 500-strong marine helicopter contingent will be moved there from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture, as agreed by the two countries in 2006.

Japan and the United States need to move 4,800 marines from Okinawa if they are to keep the 10,000 threshold for the number of marines stationed in the prefecture, as confirmed by the two countries on Feb. 8.

Of the 4,800, 3,500 will be moved to Australia, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. The U.S. side sought to move the remaining 1,300 to the Iwakuni base but gave up the effort due to fierce opposition by local residents.

While the Japanese side asked for the personnel to be moved outside of the country, the U.S. side did not yield to the request, arguing the marines will remain in Okinawa if they cannot be moved to Iwakuni.

In the end, the Japanese side gave in, making it likely the marine force level in Okinawa will reach 11,300, according to the sources.

Although the two governments are working to reduce the number of marines in Okinawa, the total is expected to exceed the threshold by several hundred, sources said.

Futenma noise suit

NAHA, Okinawa Pref.
Kyodo

Some 3,100 people living near U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa, sued the central government Friday, seeking an end to flights at the base and damages for noise-induced illness.

In the suit filed with the Naha District Court, the plaintiffs are asking the court to order the government to pay ¥5.1 billion for aircraft noise-related injuries they have suffered.

The number of plaintiffs is roughly eight times the corresponding number in a similar suit filed by local residents in 2002 demanding noise cuts and halts to early morning and evening flights.

In the latest suit, the plaintiffs claim they have undergone emotional pain due to the noise and their rights to a peaceful life have been impinged upon despite a constitutional clause guaranteeing such rights.

The plaintiffs are demanding that the court order the government to ensure the base does not emit noise exceeding 40 decibels early in the morning and at night and 65 decibels in other times.

Tsutomu Arakaki, head lawyer for the plaintiffs, told them in a meeting March 24 that “the taking-back of a quiet environment would open the path for the Futenma air station to be eliminated.”

A 2010 Fukuoka High Court ruling in response to the 2002 lawsuit ordered the central government to pay a combined ¥369 million in damages to the plaintiffs, while turning down their plea for the suspension of early morning and evening flights.