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7,000 Japanese sue over Atsugi jet noise

Neighbors seek $53 million in damages plus 12-hour overnight ban on military flights

By HANA KUSUMOTO AND TERI WEAVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 15, 2008

Pacific edition, Thursday, May 15, 2008

A civil lawsuit hearing of more than 7,000 residents living near Naval Air Facility Atsugi seeking compensation from jet noise damages began Monday at Yokohama District Court, according to the plaintiffs.

Four residents gave statements in court Monday saying the "Japanese government hasn’t done anything when the noise is at the illegal level," and that "one won’t know how it is on the illegal level until one actually lives there," according to the secretary general of the plaintiffs’ group, Hideaki Saito.

The suit, the fourth of its kind by Atsugi area residents, seeks approximately 5.3 billion yen (about $53 million) in damages allegedly incurred over the past three years. The amount has increased since they filed the suit in December because the number of plaintiffs has increased by about 900, the plaintiffs said. Residents also want a ban on military flights between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. and are demanding no flights of aircraft with engine noise exceeding 70 decibels at any time.

Officials at South Kanto Defense Bureau, a local branch of the defense ministry that deals with U.S. military base issues, declined to comment because the hearing is ongoing.

However, Saito said, the Japanese government submitted a statement to the court claiming the lawsuit should be rejected since the levels are tolerable and the residents moved to the area knowing about the jet noise.

U.S. Navy officials at Atsugi were unable to respond by deadline.

The U.S. and Japanese governments agreed in May 2006 to relocate Atsugi-based Carrier Air Wing 5 squadrons to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni by 2014.

However, plaintiffs said they will continue to suffer until then and that there’s no guarantee that the noise will be reduced.

Ninety residents of Atsugi filed the first of the four lawsuits in 1976. The second suit was filed in 1984 by 161 residents. Damages for noise were awarded in both, but flight suspensions were ruled out.

In the third lawsuit, more than 4,900 residents were awarded a combined 4 billion yen (about $34.8 million at the time) for noise damages.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 30.


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