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Editorial: Gov’t should address local community’s concerns about Mageshima base plan

Concerns are growing that a plan to build a Self-Defense Forces (SDF) base on Mageshima island in Nishinoomote City, Kagoshima Prefecture, for U.S. military aircraft to conduct training may cause noise pollution and environmental destruction.

 

The government must address these concerns with sincerity and fulfill their duty to provide adequate information based on proper procedures. The first test for the government will be the environmental assessment now underway.

 

The plan calls for the construction of two runways and a vessel moorage on uninhabited Mageshima, which is located 12 km west of [inhabited] Tanegashima island. SDF aircraft will be relocated to Mageshima as will the onshore takeoff and landing practice of U.S. military carrier-based aircraft currently being conducted on Ioto island.

 

At the end of July, Kagoshima Gov. Shiota Koichi submitted requests covering 52 categories, including the environment, ecosystem, and landscape, based on the opinions of Nishinoomote City and its residents in relation to a scoping document in which the Ministry of Defense (MOD) outlined the survey method and procedures to be used in the environmental assessment. The requests call on the MOD to include the results of noise surveys assuming flights over Tanegashima island, where 28,000 people live, the layout and scale of port facilities, and environment protection measures in the environmental impact statement the MOD will compile next.

 

The problem is that the MOD has not revealed the details of the SDF aircraft training and facilities, saying, “We will make decisions based on future discussions.” Noise is directly linked to being able to enjoy a peaceful daily life, and water quality, living beings, and the fisheries industry will be significantly affected depending on whether land reclamation is required and what form the construction takes. It is only natural that the local community has doubts.

 

Also, the MOD says the U.S. military aircraft training will be conducted “for a period of about ten days about once or twice a year” and shows a route that does not fly over Tanegashima.

 

But U.S. military aircraft already have repeatedly ignored defined routes and altitudes in Okinawa and on Japan’s mainland. Furthermore, the government does not respond effectively, instead choosing to make a token protest or keep quiet in the face of rule violations by the U.S. military.

 

A new base has been constructed against the will of the people in the Henoko district of Okinawa. Here, the MOD also did not comply with a condition set by the Okinawa Prefectural Government to “avoid times when water temperatures are high” when transplanting coral reefs inhabiting waters within the planned land reclamation site. This clearly indicates the MOD only cares about promoting their projects and puts environmental considerations on the back burner.

 

With distrust snowballing, Defense Minister Kishi Nobuo said at a press conference, “It is important to gain the understanding and cooperation of the local community.” The government needs to seriously consider what it should do to achieve this.

 

There are many opinions about the Mageshima plan, and the local community is divided over the plan. All that is certain is that a sloppy environmental assessment will prevent residents and the local government from making a proper judgment and will ensure the conflict continues into the future. The government should remember that a base cannot be operated in a stable fashion without the understanding and cooperation of the local community.

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