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Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010

Futenma replacement report leaves runway question open


Staff writer

Japan and the United States released a joint report Tuesday on construction details of the contentious relocation base for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa but without coming to an agreement on runway options.

The study report, compiled by experts from both countries, also doesn't resolve a U.S. proposal for major flight path changes to and from the planned relocation airstrip along the Henoko coast.

The changes could entail greater risks and noise pollution, which would trigger further opposition in Okinawa.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada stressed it was necessary for the report to leave room for flexibility and not force one plan on Okinawans. The final decision will be made at a bilateral security meeting, the so-called two-plus-two meeting, of both nations' foreign and defense ministers, at some point, he added.

"We listed two options to leave room" for flexibility, Okada told reporters after the report was released. "The experts discussed the technical options, (but we) will ultimately make a political decision."

He refused to say when the two governments will come to a conclusion on the construction methods, but Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his government are set to delay final judgment until after the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November.

"What is important is to gain the understanding of the Okinawans — without it, we can't move forward" with the relocation, Okada said. "We will continue to seek their (acceptance) through communication and to make efforts toward holding the two-plus-two meeting."

The report follows a bilateral accord in May in which the two governments agreed to relocate the Futenma base from the densely populated city of Ginowan to Henoko farther north on Okinawa Island.

The agreement stipulates that "a study by experts regarding the replacement facility's location, configuration and construction method would be completed promptly, in any event no later than the end of August 2010, and that the verification and validation would be completed by the time of the next" two-plus-two meeting.

In Tuesday's report, the study group reiterated the two options for the replacement base: the U.S. wants two runways in a V pattern while Japan favors a single runway.

The experts "carefully evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of the two plans," the report says. It cites various differences, including operational capability, noise and environmental impact, construction timeline and the cost.



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