The central government and local governments in Okinawa Prefecture agreed Tuesday to commence talks on managing the U.S. military facility expected to take over the heliport functions of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan city.
The proposed pact between Nago city, the central government and Okinawa Prefecture is expected to address issues such as night flights and environmental protection efforts, a government official said. The city of Nago is to be the site of the new facility.
Foreign Ministry and Defense Facilities Administration Agency officials will soon begin talks with their counterparts from Nago Municipal Government and the Okinawa Prefectural Government, the official said.
The agreement was reached during the second meeting of a committee comprising the central government, the prefecture and the host municipality to discuss the specifics of the alternative facility, a joint military-civilian airport to be built in the Henoko district of Nago, northern Okinawa.
The controversial demand by Nago locals for a 15-year limit on the use of the alternative facility was not discussed Tuesday, a government official said.
Setting up an accord on the new facility — aimed at minimizing noise and other possible problems for local residents — was a condition set by Nago Mayor Tateo Kishimoto when he agreed to the relocation of the heliport in December.
Kishimoto told reporters after Tuesday’s meeting that he welcomes the government’s decision to start the working-level talks, although little progress was made on the time-limit issue.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said he reiterated his request that a 15-year limit be set on the U.S. military’s use of the new facility.
“I told (the central government negotiators) that this is a strong request from the people of Okinawa and that I hope the issue will be settled as soon as possible,” Inamine said. The governments of Okinawa and Nago accepted a plan to build the new airport to host the helicopter operations on condition that a time limit be set. Washington strongly opposes any limit.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa and Foreign Minister Yohei Kono also attended the meeting. Relocating the helicopter functions is part of a 1996 Japan-U.S. agreement in which the United States said its forces would leave the Futenma base in five to seven years on condition that the helicopter facilities be relocated within the prefecture.
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