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NAHA, Okinawa — Arguments on whether to pay nearly 400 Japanese residents about $1.3 million in damages over noise pollution from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma were heard in high court Tuesday, the same day U.S. and Japanese officials were addressing the future of the air station.

The Japanese government, which the residents claim is responsible for the damages, was ordered in June 2008 by the Naha District Court to pay 396 residents for mental and physical suffering.

The lower court, however, dismissed a demand by residents to reduce the hours each day that flight operations are permitted at the facility. The court said the Japanese government has no control over military operations at the air station.

Both residents and the government appealed, and the first hearing at the high court began in April.

During Tuesday’s session, Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha told the three-judge panel that the noise from the air station has increased considerably since the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed in 1996 to close Futenma.

After years of twists and turns on a site selection, the governments agreed to relocate the facility to Camp Schwab in rural northern Okinawa as part of a military realignment pact signed in 2006.

“Flight activities at the air station continue to grow,” Iha told the court, saying the military has violated the 10 p.m.-6 a.m. noise abatement agreement for Okinawa bases.

Iha criticized the Japanese government’s lack of effort to enforce the agreement.

“The government’s whole intention is to keep the military base here, with no thoughts on the sufferings of local community,” he said. He closed his testimony with his appeal to immediately close the facility.

The next hearing is set for Nov. 11.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Tokyo on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the realignment of U.S. troops.


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