NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – The Naha District Court dismissed a lawsuit Thursday brought by 400 residents demanding that the commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station compensate them for damage caused by aircraft noise and halt nighttime and early morning flights.
But Presiding Judge Kyoji Iida of the court’s Okinawa branch also ruled that Japan has the right to hear the case, even though the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement prohibits Japan’s courts from imposing damages or restrictions on active U.S. service members or base employees.
The residents’ group filed an immediate appeal.
It is the first case in which a civil suit has targeted a U.S. military officer over aircraft noise.
Iida said the commander, Col. Richard Lueking, bears no responsibility in terms of compensation for noise damage, referring to the State Redress Law and a special civil law.
The two laws stipulate that if civilians suffer damages caused by the U.S. military as it carries out its duties, only the Japanese government can be held liable for compensation.
The plaintiffs, who live near the Futenma base in Ginowan, Okinawa, had claimed the commander failed to prevent noise from disturbing the residents’ daily lives.
The plaintiffs also sued the central government, demanding compensation for damage and a ban on night and early morning flights. That case is being heard separately.
The plaintiffs, who are demanding a combined 630 million yen from the government and Lueking, filed the lawsuit against the colonel in October 2002, but the commander refused to let court officials or the postal service deliver the notification of the case inside the base.
In February, the court posted a public notice about the suit on a bulletin board on its premises, but Lueking failed to submit a response in his defense or show up in court.
Noisier in 2003
NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) Areas surrounding major U.S. bases in Okinawa saw their aircraft noise levels rise in fiscal 2003 from a year earlier, according to a study released Thursday by the prefectural government.
The prefecture, which studied areas near the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in the city of Ginowan and the U.S. Air Force Kadena Air Base in the city of Okinawa, asked the Okinawa office of the U.S. forces in Japan the same day to improve the situation.
The prefecture, which measured aircraft noise levels at nine locations around the Futenma base, found that the daily noise occurrence had increased at eight out of the nine locations in fiscal 2003, which ended last March 31.
In particular, the Ojana district in Ginowan reported a noise occurrence of 90.5 times a day, up 5.5 times from a year earlier.
The prefecture also found that the weighted equivalent continuous perceived noise level, an international environmental index for gauging noise from airplanes, increased at 12 out of the 15 locations.