• Kyodo

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The town assembly of Okimi, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Monday voted down Mayor Hidekazu Tanimoto’s plan to host contentious U.S. Navy flight drills on an uninhabited island in the Seto Inland Sea.

The plan would have warplanes off the USS Kitty Hawk conduct night landing practice on Okurokami Island, which is under the town’s jurisdiction. The fighter planes currently hold the exercises, which have drawn complaints over the noise they make, at the Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Kanagawa Prefecture and on Iwojima Island.

Last week, Tanimoto revealed to the town’s 12 assembly members that he had approached the national government with the offer last summer.

However, on Monday, the 12 assembly members met and shot down the plan by a majority vote on the grounds that the mayor’s explanations were insufficient, that such drills could adversely affect the environment, and because neighboring municipalities with which Okimi is in merger talks, as well as Hiroshima Gov. Yuzan Fujita, also oppose the plan.

Tanimoto told a news conference after the vote he hopes the assembly members reconsider and he will continue discussions with them.

He added he will also hold talks with the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.

But the assembly chairman, Tamotsu Kawano, told reporters he will not convene an assembly meeting even if Tanimoto wants to discuss the matter. He said he will also oppose the submission of any bill on the issue.

At the meeting, assembly members also withdrew their earlier decision to meet with the agency and visit the Atsugi base. The decision was made at a similar meeting Thursday, when the assembly was suddenly told of the mayor’s plan for the first time.

Tanimoto began studying the plan about a year ago. He held discussions with the agency over the suggestion but did not notify the town assembly, the prefecture and surrounding local authorities, with which discussions of an integration are under way.

After Thursday’s meeting, Tanimoto said: “There was no specific opposition. We agreed to study the matter in a positive manner.”

His plan involves building a flight drill site on the island, including a 2,000-meter-long runway.

In Tokyo on Monday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said at a news conference he had not heard any official word on the issue and that the decision rests with the town.

Defense Agency and Defense Facilities Administration Agency officials could not hide their surprise at the latest development, however.

“If the assembly opposes (the plan), then the offer (for use of the island) is probably difficult to realize now,” one senior official said. “We had hoped (it) would be a viable solution” to the nighttime drills issue.

The drills, entailing touch-and-go landings, are needed to maintain U.S. carrier pilots’ proficiency. They began at the Atsugi base in 1982.

The 83,960-ton Kitty Hawk carries about 75 aircraft, including fighter jets, has a ship’s crew of 2,800 and a total underway compliment exceeding 5,000, including its air wing. Its forward-deployed base is at Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

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