NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) The Fukuoka High Court awarded damages totaling about ¥369 million Thursday to plaintiffs over noise caused by flights at U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, a 2.5-fold increase from the amount awarded by a lower court.
But the three-judge panel at the high court’s Naha branch upheld the 2008 lower court decision that rejected residents’ demands for a halt to early morning and evening flights at the Futenma base.
Presiding Judge Yoshinori Kawabe acted on appeals against the June 2008 decision by the Naha District Court’s Okinawa branch over the suit filed by some 390 residents near the base, which is located in a densely populated area in Ginowan.
The district court also rejected demands for a halt to night flights, mainly by helicopters, saying the central government cannot restrict the activities of the U.S. forces in Japan.
It also ordered the government to pay about ¥146 million in compensation to the plaintiffs over noise pollution suffered to date and for psychological damage due to fear of possible aircraft crashes. But it rejected claims for future compensation.
The base occupies an area of about 480 hectares, or a quarter of Ginowan’s territory, with a single 2,800-meter runway. Most of its 52 aircraft are helicopters.
Japan and the U.S. agreed in 1996 to relocate the base within Okinawa.
But last fall when the Democratic Party of Japan came to power, then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sought to relocate it out of the prefecture. In May, shortly before stepping down, Hatoyama decided to effectively stick to the 2006 accord and relocate the base to a less populated coastal area in the city of Nago.
Concerns over the danger posed by the base intensified after the 2004 crash of a marine helicopter on the campus of Okinawa International University, which is adjacent to the air station. The crew was injured.
The plaintiffs are residents, aged 8 to 100, living in an area with noise levels between 75 decibels and 80 decibels on an internationally recognized index, called the weighted equivalent continuous perceived noise level, or WECPNL. An index of 80 decibels is said to be the noise level in a subway car.
They sought a flight ban from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
During the high court battle, the plaintiffs complained of health hazards, including hearing difficulties, caused by aircraft noise and low-frequency sound waves from helicopters. They also noted the high risk of death from ischemic heart disease.
In response, the government argued that the noise levels have showed an improvement in recent years and the WECPNL figures are outdated as they were measured in 1977. It also said some plaintiffs moved to their current residences knowing there was aircraft noise.
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