The central government on Friday proposed eight possible construction plans for an airfield to replace the U.S. Marine Corp.’s Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.
The proposals, presented by government leaders at a meeting in Tokyo with top Okinawa officials, ranged in cost from 140 billion yen to 1 trillion yen.
The mayor of the northern Okinawa city of Nago, the proposed site of the facility, expressed concern that Tokyo is trying to proceed with the project while failing to address various concerns raised by local municipalities, such as local demands for a 15-year time limit on the U.S. military’s use of the facility.
The planned airfield, to be jointly used by U.S. military and civilian aircraft, is to be built off the coast of the city’s Henoko district.
The eight proposals are divided into three categories according to construction methods; pile-supported pier method, landfill method, or megafloat method. The plans also vary as to whether the facility is to be built inside, outside, or on the coral reefs off the Henoko coast.
The size of the airfield is about 2,600 meters by 730 meters in all eight plans.
Government estimates of the duration of construction work range from six years to 181/2 years. Construction costs will be about 140 billion yen if the airfield is built inside the coral reefs using a landfill method, but threatens to balloon to 1 trillion yen if it is built outside the reefs in the pile-supported pier method.
Possible impacts on the environment, especially on the endangered dugong, a sea mammal that lives in waters around the prefecture, will be taken into account in selecting the plan. Environmentalists have strongly opposed the construction saying it would threaten the rare species.
The planned Nago facility is to take over the functions of Futenma, which under a Japan-U.S. 1996 agreement is to be returned to Japan once an alternative airfield is built in the prefecture.
While Tokyo has selected Nago as the site of the airfield, the city and Okinawa Prefecture are demanding that its use by the U.S. military should be limited to 15 years, and are saying that construction should not begin unless their demand is accepted.
The U.S. government has ruled out setting such a time limit.
Koji Omi, minister in charge of Okinawa affairs, told reporters after the meeting that he wants to respect the opinion of local governments in the selection of construction methods, adding that he expects the Okinawa prefectural and Nago city governments to survey local opinion in the next couple of months.
However, Nago Mayor Tateo Kishimoto reportedly said: “The construction method should not be decided ahead of other factors.”
There are many other issues to be discussed, such as the time-limit issue and the promotion of northern Okinawa.”
Omi stopped short of responding directly to Kishimoto’s remarks, according to officials who took part in the session.
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