By Sumner La Croix
The United States announced plans on June 20 to move about a quarter of the ~20,000 US marines based in Okinawa to Guam, Hawaii, the US mainland, the Philippines, and Australia over the next 13 years. Are those plans still moving forward?
Yes, they are, but an editorial in last week’s People’s Daily, a leading Chinese newspaper, added some uncertainty to the situation. In the editorial, the legitimacy of Japan’s rule over the entire Ryukyu Island chain was questioned. Okinawa is part of the Ryukyu island chain and it is certain that this Chinese government-sanctioned editorial did not go over well in Tokyo or Washington. If this type of rhetoric continues, Tokyo may well want the Marines to stay in Okinawa.
What do we know about the relocation to Hawaii?
Between 1,000 and 2,700 of the 4,700 marines being moved will likely end up on the island of Oahu. The U.S. Dept. of Defense has commissioned three separate studies to evaluate several potential locations to house the marines.
They include the already crowded Marine Corp Air Station in Kaneohe Bay. It currently houses 7,500+ marines. Considerable new construction would be needed. There could also be stress on training facilities in the vicinity.
Camp Smith, near Pearl Harbor, houses 1,700+ marines but they are mostly associated with the Pacific Command. Housing relocated marines there is unlikely.
What about the other two locations?
Two other possible locations are the decommissioned Naval Air Station Barbers Point and Pearl City Peninsula.
Pearl City Peninsula is a lightly developed residential peninsula that pushes out into the center of Pearl Harbor. It’s a good location but environmental and cost considerations could make it an expensive choice.
The decommissioned Naval Air Station Barbers Point is more intriguing. At the end of the cold war, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) recommended its closure in a 1993 report and the base closed in 1999. Since then efforts to redevelop the closed base have been a total failure.
This location certainly has a lot of potential, but also would require major investment. It does have an airstrip that could be brought back into use, but almost all other facilities would need to be built from scratch. Whether Congress would want to spend the kind of money needed to bring this closed base back to life is unclear.
Where’s the marine relocation on the Hawaii political radar?
The story has not been extensively covered in Hawaii’s newspapers and media and so there has been little public discussion of the topic. Hawaii’s governor, congressional delegation, policymakers and legislators must surely be talking about it, as it has considerable potential to generate more medium-term construction spending. That’s important, as the Hawaii construction industry has been slow to recover from the 2008-2009 downturn and still has large numbers of unemployed or underemployed workers.
On the other hand, Oahu already hosts several military bases, and it would not be surprising to see a backlash develop against the relocation if the new housing and facilities are located on lands not currently being used by the military.