$2.5M Futenma noise lawsuit hearing ends
November 3, 2007
OKINAWA CITY, Okinawa — A Japanese court Thursday wrapped up hearings in a $2.56 million noise lawsuit filed in 2002 by 404 residents in communities surrounding Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
While residents claimed the Tokyo government is responsible for damages caused by aircraft noise, government lawyers countered that the skies are much quieter than plaintiffs contend and asked the court to dismiss the case.
They also argued that despite knowing about the aircraft operations, many people have moved to the area in recent years as apartments and businesses have sprung up.
About 15 lawyers representing 404 plaintiffs took turns making final arguments before the three- judge panel at Naha District Court’s Okinawa City branch.
“The Japanese government is jointly liable with the U.S. military for physical and mental damages caused by the noise,” lawyer Tatsushi Yokota said.
Although the government is trying to avoid responsibility by saying that flight operations are beyond its control, he argued, it is possible for the government to exert control.
“By spending 300 billion yen (about about $2.6 billion) on the host nation support program, the government proactively [is] involved in maintaining military bases [in Japan],” Yokota said.
He said aircraft noise has been a factor in health problems ranging from hearing losses to babies with low birth weights, calling it a “gross violation of human rights.”
Residents also seek suspension of aircraft operations between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
The noise is beyond bearable levels, resident Chuji Chinen, 73, said, appealing to the judges.
“At an interval of three minutes, touch-and-go training is repeated, and such training could last for about hour and half to two hours,” he said. Besides helicopters, other aircraft such as P3C reconnaissance aircraft add to the noise, he said.
“What we have brought to this court is a very simple fact,” said Tsutomu Arakaki, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs. “There is noise, and there are damages.”
Government lawyers, however, argued that the plaintiffs’ claims are invalid and should be rejected.
“From our monitoring, the noise levels are found to be within permissible levels,” said one of the government lawyers. He added that there are also many days when aircraft noise is below environmental standards.
In addition, he said, the government has spent heavily to alleviate noise problems in communities around the air station.
“As of 2006, 143 school facilities and about 19,000 homes have been soundproofed, and a total of 13.8 billion yen (about $120 million) in subsidies have been paid to Ginowan City and 105.3 billion yen (about $916 million) to municipal governments surrounding the air station,” the lawyer said.
He also described a trend among residents that he described as an “approach to danger.”
After a university was built near Futenma, apartment buildings and retails stores began to follow, he said.
“Many people have moved into the area for social and economic reasons, not from the sense of belonging,” the lawyer said.
The lawsuit was filed in November 2002. A ruling is expected in the spring.