The Japanese government plans to start major repair work, possibly within the year, at a U.S. military base in Okinawa Prefecture at the center of a disagreement between the central and local governments, a government source said Friday.
The planned repair work at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, covering its aging barracks and hangar among others, could spark local opposition as the southern island prefecture is seeking the swift closure of the base and return of its land to Japanese control.
The air base in Ginowan is supposed to be relocated to a less densely populated area within the same island under a Japan-U.S. agreement. But construction of the replacement facility off Nago has been held up in a legal dispute between the central and local governments, with the Okinawa side seeking the base’s relocation outside of the prefecture.
Defense Ministry officials say the state’s intention of keeping the repair work to a minimum remains unchanged, and that the envisioned repair would not lead to keeping the base open indefinitely.
The cost of the projects is expected to total several billion yen, and it will be shouldered by the Japanese government. The United States was calling for the repair on the grounds that aging base facilities could hamper the safe operation and performance of the U.S. military.
Since the Japanese and U.S. governments struck a deal in 1996 on the return of the Futenma base site to Japanese control, repair work there has been limited to five projects in the fiscal 2013-2017 period costing a total of roughly 5.6 billion yen ($55.8 million). They include repair to power transmission lines, rainwater drainage and sewage facilities.