U.S. wanted impact assessment for inland area at Futenma transfer site

Kyodo

The U.S. military wanted Japan to conduct an environmental impact assessment on an inland area in Okinawa Prefecture where construction of part of a replacement facility for a controversial U.S. base was being planned without public disclosure, an internal military document showed on Wednesday.

The U.S. military apparently feared an environmental impact assessment only on sea areas might draw further criticism on the controversial project. But the Japanese government rejected the proposal, according to the document recently obtained by Kyodo News.

“If no environmental impact assessment is complete U.S. Marine Corps may be held accountable for unintended consequences to environment and habitat as a result of construction and future operations,” read the document, titled “Review Comments” for the facility to replace the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The revelation of the document is likely to make it more difficult for the central government to gain the support of local residents over the Futenma base relocation project.

Many locals are already frustrated over what they say is insufficient information disclosure over details of the project.

Japan and the United States have agreed to move Futenma Air Station from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to less populated Henoko, in Nago.

The document is dated April 20, 2006, shortly after Japan decided on the construction of two runways in the coastal area of Henoko.

A separate U.S. internal document in 2008, obtained by Kyodo News in July, showed that the United States has planned to build inland facilities in addition to the airstrips specified under the Japan-U.S. accord for the relocation. But the plan has not been disclosed to the Japanese public.

The 2006 document listed a total of 52 issues discussed with the Japanese government, including the environmental assessment.

The document states the central government “is only considering an environmental impact assessment for water area,” noting that an assessment for the inland area — the Henoko Dam Area and the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab land area — is recommended.

The Okinawa Defense Bureau finished procedures for an environmental assessment in January of last year, setting the stage for a survey of the seafloor to prepare for landfill work necessary to build the airstrip.

But the incomplete disclosure of the overall base relocation plan, recently revealed through U.S. documents, could trigger a local backlash.

In the assessment, the Okinawa Defense Bureau has said sand and soil from the inland area will be extracted as it will be used for landfill work. But it does not refer to a plan to build housing and other facilities in the inland area.

“The Defense Ministry may have limited the assessment of the inland area to soil and sand to minimize local opposition,” said Masaaki Gabe, a professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa.

“We can also read (in the document) that the United States intended to put all the blame of the base construction on the Japanese side,” he said.

The Defense Ministry has said it would decline to comment on any adjustments made by Japan and the United States to each of the proposed facilities.