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Govt ordered to pay damages for Yokota base noise

A court ordered the government on Wednesday to pay a total of ¥618 million in damages over past aircraft noise pollution to some residents near the U.S. military’s Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo.


On the noise pollution litigation filed by some 1,000 residents, however, the Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Court rejected the plaintiffs’ requests for compensation for future noise pollution and a halt to late-night and early-morning flights using the base.


Presiding Judge Takeo Setoguchi said, “The noise has caused interruptions to daily lives and psychological damage such as a sense of insecurity.”


Setoguchi ordered damages payment of ¥4,000-¥12,000 per month per plaintiff to those living in areas where aircraft noise levels register 75 or higher on the weighted equivalent continuous perceived noise level, or WECPNL, an internationally recognized measurement of aircraft noise. These residents “suffered illegal rights infringement beyond tolerable limits,” the judge said.


Since 1976, a series of lawsuits have been filed by residents near the air base over its aircraft noise pollution, with the state being ordered to pay past damages.


Touching on this history, Setoguchi criticized measures taken by the government, such as subsidizing costs for noise insulation work for houses, saying that these had only limited and indirect effects.


Regarding the 1993 Japan-U.S. agreement to restrict late-night and early-morning flights at the base only to when there is a pressing need, the judge said there were no signs of Tokyo asking Washington to keep its promise.


“The Japanese government is not making even the slightest effort to achieve a drastic solution to the noise problem,” Setoguchi said.


Flight halts ‘unreasonable’


The judge said the flight suspension request is unreasonable because flights using the base are third-party actions beyond the control of the Japanese government. He also rejected the request for compensation for future noise pollution, saying this was unlawful.


The plaintiffs in the latest Yokota base noise pollution lawsuit, filed in 2013, comprise residents of eight cities and one town in Tokyo and the neighboring prefecture of Saitama.


They included those living in areas where noise levels were recognized as within tolerable limits and were thus excluded from damages in past lawsuits. Their requests for compensation were again rejected.


In a series of lawsuits over aircraft noise pollution from military bases in Japan, judicial rulings that only allow damages for past pollution have become common.


In the fourth litigation filed by local residents over aircraft noise pollution at the Atsugi air base in Kanagawa Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, the Supreme Court in December last year overturned lower court rulings that ordered a halt to late-night and early-morning flights by aircraft from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force.


The top court also dismissed high court-recognized damages claims for future noise pollution from the base.

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