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Fourth Atsugi suit filed to restrict military flights

By HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 17, 2007

TOKYO — More than 6,000 residents living near Naval Air Facility Atsugi were to file a class-action suit Monday against the Japanese government seeking damages for U.S. military aircraft noise, according to the plaintiffs’ group leader.

The suit, the fourth of its kind by Atsugi area residents, seeks 4.65 billion yen (about $41.4 million) in damages allegedly incurred over the past three years, said Eiji Fujita.

However, that amount may change if additional residents join the lawsuit, he said.

Residents also want a ban on military flights between 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., Fujita said, and are demanding no flights of aircraft with engine noise exceeding 70 decibels at any time of day.

“No improvements have been made [to reduce the noise]” since the last lawsuit closed in July 2006, Fujita said. “Although number of flights has declined recently, we cannot feel it.”

The group also was to file an administrative lawsuit Monday that it hopes will lead to a ban on flights, since courts have rejected flight suspensions in the past as “unfit for civil lawsuits,” he said.

A Ministry of Defense spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday on the new lawsuit because it had yet to be filed.

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.

Until then, Fujita said, “we will continue to suffer. There is also 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 4 billion yen (about $34.8 million) for noise damages.