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DOD pleased with progress in Futenma relocation plans

Stars and Stripes
By Travis J. Tritten
December 29, 2011

Futenma project preliminary work goes on

Congress has ordered a slowdown of the controversial plan to relocate the Futenma air station on Okinawa, President Barack Obama has signed legislation temporarily barring funding for the project and the government of Japan is planning to withhold funds as well.

But none of that discouraged the Pentagon from hailing “significant progress” this week after Japanese officials filed an official environmental assessment of the project with the Okinawan government, one of the steps required if the long-planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan will ever actually occur.

Despite recent calls from U.S. politicians put the project on hold, the submission of the report allows the two countries to focus on construction permits for new Marine Corps runways on the island, Pentagon spokesman George Little said. The U.S. considers the project a critical military priority in the region.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “looks forward to working with Japan in taking the next step: securing the landfill permit” for construction of offshore runways in northern Okinawa to replace Futenma, Little said in a written statement.

Japan defense officials handed over the 7,000-page environmental document to the Okinawa government around 4 a.m. Wednesday, avoiding protesters who had blocked a delivery attempt the day before. It was the first concrete progress on the contentious U.S.-Japan relocation agreement since it was signed more than five years ago, but the move stirred resentment among Okinawans who are weary of hosting large U.S. bases and want Marine flight operations moved off the island.

Under Japanese law, the U.S. and Japan must first get approval from the Okinawa prefectural government before the sea bottom can be filled to create a new V-shaped airfield beside the Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab near Nago city. The base is slated to be transformed into a replacement base for Futenma, which is located in the middle of a dense urban area. …

Read on: www.stripes.com/news/futenma-project-preliminary-work-goes-on-1.164711