Kagoshima – The local governor in Kagoshima Prefecture said Friday he will permit a marine boring survey around an uninhabited island that has been chosen as the new site of a U.S. military takeoff and landing training facility set to be relocated under a long-stalled plan.
Kagoshima Gov. Koichi Shiota announced at a local assembly meeting that he will accept a Defense Ministry request to start the survey in waters surrounding the 8-square-kilometer Mage Island, which is located about 12 kilometers west of Tanegashima Island in the prefecture.
The decision marks the first step in relocating the training site for carrier-borne aircraft from Iwoto Island in the Pacific under a 2011 Japan-U.S. accord.
The project has been stalled due to environmental and safety concerns as well as prolonged land acquisition negotiations between the central government and a landowner.
The Defense Ministry aims to build a Self-Defense Forces base on the island to be used jointly with American troops so that the U.S. military’s field carrier landing practice site can be moved to Mage from Iwoto, some 1,200 km south of Tokyo.
“We decided today to permit (the survey) as a result of screening in accordance with laws,” Shiota said at the plenary session of the prefectural assembly.
The ministry is seeking to launch the survey and an environmental assessment by the end of the month.
But it remains to be seen whether the plan will go ahead smoothly. Shunsuke Yaita, mayor of Nishinoomote, which oversees the island, is opposed to the relocation, citing a possible negative impact on the local fishery industry.
A local fishery cooperative, which has fishing rights in waters around the island, has agreed to the marine survey.
Shiota told reporters after the assembly session that he accepted the survey based on the central government’s assurance it will not cause an impact on the fishery industry and other factors.
But he added that giving the green light to the survey is a “different matter from whether we will approve construction of the base.”
Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in a news conference, “(The survey) is necessary to study a plan to build a harbor facility” for the envisioned SDF base on the island.
“It is very significant to secure a SDF facility on Mage Island in terms of (the country’s) security,” he added.
In November last year, the government agreed to buy the island for ¥16 billion after eight years of negotiations with its main landowner.
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