Defense Agency Chief Fumio Kyuma visited Okinawa Prefecture on Wednesday to unveil blueprints for a sea-based heliport off Nago, northern Okinawa Island, in a last-ditch effort to win local support for the plan.
The heliport is to take over the major functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in the central part of the island. With the Nago Municipal Government planning a plebiscite for Dec. 21 to put the heliport plan to a vote, Kyuma’s visit to the prefecture was considered crucial to convince local residents of the sea-based facility’s safety.
During meetings with Nago Mayor Tetsuya Higa, Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota and officials of prefectural fisheries cooperatives to formally ask for their cooperation, Kyuma presented two methods of construction for the sea-based facility, which would be approximately 1,500 meters long and 600 meters wide. One method calls for a pontoon platform, protected by breakwaters, moored outside a coral reef at a point approximately 3 km from Henoko, the nearest residential area. The other entails a platform supported by stilts sunk in the sea bottom inside the reef and about 1.5 km from Henoko.
Within the reef, the water is less than 3 meters deep, while outside the reef it is 10 meters to 70 meters deep. Both methods include construction of a runway about 1,300 meters long and 45 meters wide, along with a control tower, hangars, an apron, repair facilities and warehouses. Additional residential facilities would be built at nearby Camp Schwab to accommodate some 2,500 Marines and their families, according to a senior Defense Agency official.
Kyuma told his counterparts that it is appropriate to relocate Futenma to the sea off Nago when considering the safety of the environment and local residents. Ota said he will keep a cautious watch on the public reaction.
Meanwhile, the revelation of the heliport blueprints stirred controversy around Okinawa. A dozen members of a Nago-based citizens’ group opposed to the planned heliport visited the Defense Facilities Administration Agency’s Naha bureau in the morning to deliver to Kyuma a written petition urging him to call off his visit because a reliable environmental assessment has not been conducted. After the local defense officials refused to accept the petition, group members scuffled with security guards and staged a sit-in at the bureau. A Nago citizens’ group promoting the revitalization of the city, on the other hand, approved Kyuma’s efforts and expressed support for the heliport proposal.