The government will push for one 1,800-meter runway at Cape Henoko in Nago, Okinawa, and its adjacent shallows for the new facility to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefecture, sources said Thursday.
The new plan to relocate the Futenma base, now in the crowded city of Ginowan also on Okinawa Island, will be pitched to the U.S. during a working-level bilateral meeting to be held Thursday and Friday in Washington.
While Tokyo is not excluding the original plan to build two runways at the site in a V pattern, it feels one runway would suffice for operational requirements, the sources said.
In a joint statement issued May 28, Japan and the United States confirmed “the intention to locate the replacement facility at the Camp Schwab Henoko-saki (Cape Henoko) area and adjacent waters” and they had decided to complete a study by experts on its “location, configuration and construction method . . . in any event no later than the end of August.”
But with local opposition to the proposed relocation within the prefecture unlikely to abate anytime soon, the completion of the study is expected to be postponed.
In the wake of the historic change of power last autumn, then DPJ Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama spent months seeking a relocation site for the controversial base “at least outside” of the prefecture. But as his self-imposed deadline of the end of May for settling the issue approached, he returned to the original plan to relocate Futenma to the coastal area of Nago, incurring the wrath of locals.
Before he resigned as prime minister in early June, partly to take responsibility for the relocation issue, the Hatoyama government considered building a replacement facility offshore in the form of a pile-supported platform to lessen the potential environmental damage.
But such a change would require a new environmental assessment and the U.S. side expressed reluctance, partly because a significant delay in completing the project would be inevitable. By pushing for the new plan, it appears the Japanese side will put forward a compromise to the United States on this point by seeking only one runway.
But local opposition to the relocation could intensify, given that if only one runway were built, U.S. military air traffic using the facility might fly over parts of Nago.
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