• Kyodo News


The Japanese and U.S. governments have ironed out their report on construction options for replacing a contentious U.S. Marine Corps air base in Okinawa Prefecture, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The report mentions two options for building the facility that will replace Futenma air station: two runways in a V-shaped formation, a plan favored by the United States, and a single runway, the option favored by Japan.

The report contains data indicating the single runway option has an environmental advantage, the sources said. According to the data, the single runway would only destroy 67 hectares of seaweed beds, while the V-shaped runways would ruin 78.1 hectares.

The seaweed beds are vital to the survival of the dugong, an endangered marine mammal.

Despite the data, Washington maintains that the V-shaped formation is the best option, based on operational and other factors, the sources said.

The Japanese government will provide an explanation of the report to the Okinawa Prefectural Government on Monday, before publicizing it on Tuesday, they said.

Earlier this month, the United States proposed a major change in flight routes to and from the planned relocation site that would bring U.S. aircraft closer to onshore areas than Tokyo had expected under visual flight rules for the V-shaped formation.

But the two governments decided not to mention that proposal in the report because the Japanese side opposed it on the grounds that it could worsen noise levels and pose greater risks to residents, prompting more discussions on the issue.

In May, Tokyo and Washington agreed to relocate Futenma air base within the prefecture, moving it from densely populated Ginowan to the less populated Henoko district in Nago.

The report marks the end of working-level talks on the thorny issue, but the two sides will try to narrow down the proposals in upcoming talks in September and in later talks to be held between their foreign and defense vice ministers.

The two governments will then aim to reach an agreement at the next bilateral security meeting, the so-called two-plus-two meeting, of their foreign and defense chiefs.

But the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan plans to delay its final decision on the matter until after the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November, because reaching a bilateral accord before then would increase local opposition.

Prospects for relocation talks also remain uncertain in light of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election on Sept. 14, which is pitting Kan against former DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa.

According to the report, the total area to be occupied by the V-shaped runways would be 205 hectares, with 160 hectares to be reclaimed from the sea. Under the single-runway plan, a total of 150 hectares would be occupied, with 120 hectares reclaimed, the sources said.

The runways are 1,800 meters long in both proposals, the sources said.

The report states the advantages and disadvantages of the two choices from five aspects — safety, operational needs, noise, environment and repercussions for the local community, the sources said.

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