WASHINGTON, May 31 (AP) - (Kyodo)—Japan and the United States have begun considering postponing the planned transfer of about 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam to be completed three to five years later than the originally scheduled 2014, sources close to Japanese-U.S. ties said Monday.
The delay has come to be envisioned as the U.S. government is planning to compile an infrastructure plan worth several billion dollars at maximum for the Pacific island in July to address the shortage of infrastructure there, according to the sources and a U.S. official.
The two countries have agreed that the transfer of the Okinawa-based Marines and their family members to the U.S. territory is "dependent on tangible progress" on relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station to another site in Okinawa Prefecture.
A significant delay in the transfer, should it materialize, could affect the replacement facility's location, configuration and construction method, which the two countries said in their latest accord released Friday would be worked out by the end of August.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pointed out in February that the island's infrastructure cannot keep up with a rapid population increase likely to be caused by the Marine transfer, an agency official in charge of the matter said.
The measures include one to curtail an inflow of people from outside the island, one of the sources close to bilateral ties said. The new infrastructure plan would be compiled in July after working out details, including how to finance it.
While the plan would be compiled on the premise that the infrastructure shortage should be addressed by 2014, another source close to the ties said it would be difficult for U.S. Congress to earmark enough funds by 2014 given a strain on U.S. finances and a likely delay in facility construction on Guam amid strong calls on the island's part for postponing the Marine transfer.
In a document submitted to the Defense Department in February, the EPA pointed out that as many as 79,000 people would come to Guam as workers to build military facilities in connection with the Marine transfer. That is roughly a 45 percent increase from the current population of about 180,000.
The agency criticized a draft environmental assessment submitted by the department last November as predicting an increase of only 23,000 people as a result of the Marine transfer project.
Guam Gov. Felix Camacho, while accepting the Marine transfer from Okinawa, has called for an extension in completing the transfer out of concern over the impact it would have on people's lives due to a lack of infrastructure on the island.
The Marines' transfer from Okinawa to Guam is a pillar of the bilateral agreement forged in 2006 to realign U.S. forces in Japan. Another is the controversial relocation of Futenma from the middle of an urban area to a coastal area of the Marines' Camp Schwab in Nago, where the latest bilateral agreement says a new facility would be built "without significant delay."
Both are designed to reduce the base-hosting burdens on the people of Okinawa, which shoulders roughly 75 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan, while constituting just 0.6 percent of total Japanese land area.
Under a bilateral treaty signed in February last year under the previous government, Japan is to shoulder roughly $6.09 billion, including loans, in facilitating the Marine transfer to Guam, while the United States is to shoulder roughly $4.18 billion.