NAHA, Japan, Nov. 17, Kyodo — The Naha District Court on Thursday ordered the Japanese government to pay around 2.46 billion yen ($22.6 million) in damages to 3,395 residents due to aircraft noise from a key U.S. air base in Okinawa Prefecture, but rejected the plaintiffs’ demand for a halt to flights at the base.
Presiding Judge Tetsuya Fujikura of the court’s Okinawa branch recognized the emotional distress and negative impacts on the health of residents around the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma caused by the aircraft noise that he says has disrupted sleep and people’s daily lives.
Fujikura said the government “has left the problem unaddressed” without taking effective measures even though the noise from the Futenma base has been an issue since the 1970s.
The plaintiffs demanded a total of about 10 billion yen in damages.
It dismissed the plaintiffs’ request to suspend flights with noise levels exceeding 40 decibels early in the morning and at night as well as 65 decibels at other times, saying the Japanese government “is not in a position to regulate the operation of U.S. military aircraft.”
The plaintiffs said they plan to appeal to a higher court.
The ruling comes as the Japanese and U.S. governments are seeking to move the Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less-populated Henoko coastal area of Nago within Japan’s southern island prefecture.
But the relocation plan has drawn opposition from the people of Okinawa, home to the bulk of U.S. military facilities in the country, as they want the Futenma base to be relocated outside the prefecture.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government’s stance on the planned relocation remains “completely unchanged” despite the ruling, calling the Henoko plan the only solution that balances national security concerns and the elimination of the risks at the current site.
“I understand that (the ruling) means the state’s arguments did not gain the full understanding of the court,” the government’s top spokesman told a press conference.
“The relevant government ministries and agencies will make arrangements to deal appropriately with (the issue) from here on,” Suga said.
The central and Okinawa governments have been in legal battles after Tokyo filed a lawsuit against Okinawa as Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who was elected on an antibase relocation platform, revoked in October last year his predecessor’s approval for landfill work required for the relocation plan.
The Naha branch of the Fukuoka High Court ruled in September the governor’s decision was “illegal,” prompting him to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Thursday’s ruling follows two similar ones filed by other groups of citizens. In July 2010, the Fukuoka High Court ordered the central government to pay around 369 million yen in damages to the plaintiffs, but rejected their plea for the suspension of flights.
In June last year, the Okinawa branch of the Naha District Court also ordered Tokyo to pay some 754 million yen in damages.