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Henoko Ordnance Ammunition Depot
Okinawa, Japan

Henoko Ordnance Depot, which is adjacent to Camp Schwab, is an ammunition storage facility for the U.S. Marine Corps. Most of the ordnance depot is covered over with dirt. Henoko is the village closest to Camp Schwab.

The US military has had plans to construct a new heliport in Henoko. In December 1999 Nago City Mayor, Tateo Kishimoto accepted plans to move the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to Nago's southeastern district of Henoko. The Mayor's approval was considered to have cleared the final obstacle towards the relocation of Futenma. It also ended a debate that has been going on for more than three years. The isssue first came up in 1996, when the US and Japan decided to move Marine air operations to other, less developed areas of Okinawa.

Henoko heliport is planned to be the upgraded version of the major Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station, which is nestled in a crowded metropolitan area on the South End of Okinawa. Futenma has long been the object of controversy, as its noise pollution and other chemical contagion have been pinpointed as major causes of health problems in the area. Schools, hospitals, and thousands of homes are located within mere yards of this highly valued Marine transportation hub and supplies outpost.

The new air station, which would replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, would be built over a reef that is almost 2 miles off the shores of Henoko. The environmental assessment is the first step toward making the move northward. Government officials have been working on the plan and estimate that the size of the proposed facility will be about 195 hectares. It would be 2,600 meters long and 750 meters wide. The planners considered eight different proposals on different construction methods depending on the location. The construction work is estimated to take between eight to nine years. The total cost is estimated to be from 200 billion to trillion.

Surveys, expected to begin in December 2003 and to take about three years, will assess the area where land is to be reclaimed and the airport construction's environmental impact.

Some environmentalists expressed fear that the airport would harm the seabed grazing grounds of an endangered saltwater manatee, the dugong. Henoko city officials said the dugongs never really were a consideration in the decision. Most of the 18 confirmed dugong sightings in Okinawa waters since 1979 were beached carcasses. And officials said they know of no sightings inside the reef where the airport will be built.

In December 1996, after 12 months of study and consultations, the governments in Tokyo and Washington and their representatives on the Special Action Committee on Okinawa produced their final report concerning the return of US military base properties on the island. The plans for the Futenma Air Station - the single most important issue for Okinawans - were not finalized.

A floating heliport was the leading option, but its location and the construction method had not been determined. The focus of the December 1996 Special Action Committee on Okinawa final report was an accord is to relocate the major military heliport now at the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to a 1,500-meter sea-based facility off the east coast of the main island of Okinawa. It envisaged developing and constructing the facility off Camp Schwab, located in the city of Nago. But an exact location for the heliport was not specified in the report, because agreement from local residents had not been reached. In the past, such marine super floating structure had been considered and talked about many times as a touch-and-go base as the replacenent of the Atsugi Airbase as well as a candidate for the Kansai Airport. At the meeting between President Clinton and Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto, held in New York on September 24, Clinton commented on proposed sea floating heliport as a replacement facility for the Futenma Airbase by saying, "no matter where it would be moved, it should be done in a way that the US military system would not be harmed, and it must be solved in a way that in the future the problem like that of Futenma should never be resurfaced".

The United States established a runway length requirement of about 4,200 feet for the sea-based facility. Arresting gear would be located about 1,200 feet from either end of the runway to permit carrier aircraft to land. In addition, the runway would have 328-foot overruns at each end to provide a safety margin in case a pilot overshoots the optimal landing spot during an approach and a parallel taxiway about 75 feet wide alongside the runway. Additional aircraft facilities include a drive-through rinse facility for aircraft corrosion control, an air traffic control tower, and aircraft firefighting and rescue facilities. Up to 10,000 pounds of ordnance would be stored in a magazine collocated with an ordnance assembly area aboard the sea-based facility. Also, flight simulators and security and rescue boat operations, among other capabilities, are required aboard the sea-based facility. The "DoD Operational Requirements and Concept of Operations for MCAS Futenma Relocation, Okinawa, Japan (final draft)" stated that the sea-based facilities of the new military base and all associated structure shall be designed for a 40 year operational life with a 200 year fatigue life.

The United States planned to locate the headquarters, logistics, and most operational activities aboard the sea-based facility and most quality-of-life activities, including housing, food service, and medical and dental services, ashore at Camp Schwab. US officials estimate that over 2,500 servicemembers currently stationed at MCAS Futenma would transfer to the sea-based facility and Camp Schwab. To accommodate the incoming arrivals from MCAS Futenma, Marine Corps Bases, Japan, plans to relocate about 800 to 1,000 servicemembers currently housed at Camp Schwab to Camp Hansen and absorb the remainder at Camp Schwab. US engineers estimated that about 1,900 people would work on the sea-based facility.

In August 1997 the Okinawa Prefectural Government officially accepted a central government request to conduct borings at a site off Nago on the east coast of Okinawa Island as part of a survey for a sea-based US military heliport facility. Despite strong pressure from Tokyo, local people in Nago voted against the heliport proposal in a referendum in December 1997.

By November 1997 the Japanese government was considering two methods of construction for the sea-based facility, which would be approximately 1,500 meters long and 600 meters wide. One called for a pontoon platform, protected by breakwaters, moored outside a coral reef at a point approximately 3 km from Henoko, the nearest residential area. The other entailed a platform supported by stilts sunk in the sea bottom inside the reef and about 1.5 km from Henoko. Within the reef, the water is less than 3 meters deep, while outside the reef it is 10 meters to 70 meters deep. A thir method, dubbed the "semisub" system, had been dismissed due to potentially exorbitant costs. Both methods included construction of a runway about 1,300 meters long and 45 meters wide, along with a control tower, hangers, an apron, repair facilities and warehouses. Additional residential facilities would be built at nearby Camp Schwab to accommodate some 2,500 Marines and their families.

According to the proposal, about 60 aircraft would be deployed at the sea-based facility, including UH-1 utility helicopters, AH-1 attack helicopters, and CH-53 and CH-46 cargo transport helicopters.

A March 1998 report by the General Accounting Office noted that the sea-based facility, planned to replace the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma, faced three major technological, financial and operational challenges. Annual operations and maintenance costs for the sea-based facility were initially estimated at $200 million based on a $4-billion design and construction cost, significantly higher than the $2.8 million being paid by the United States at Futenma.

The area planned for the new base is in a natural conservation area dedignated by Okinawa Prefecture. The area, where a diverse ecosystem is maintained, such as coral reefs, tideland and sea weed grounds, is given high priority for conservation. The sea area is the northern habitable limit of dugongs, an internationally protected animal.

In June 2001 the Futenma Relocation Committee was presented with eight different designs and three different methods of construction. The conceptions were for structures either within the coral reef or beyond it. Generally the methods are based on structures connected by piers, floating pontoons or land reclamation.

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