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OKINAWA CITY — The Naha District Court branch Thursday ordered the Japanese government to pay 2.8 billion yen (about $26.7 million) to more than 3,800 people living near Kadena Air Base for damage to their health caused by the noise from jets.

However, the court dismissed the residents’ demands to force Kadena to suspend early morning and late night aircraft activities at the air base.

The court also rejected a separate noise lawsuit against the U.S. government filed by some of the plaintiffs, who demanded it halt all military aircraft operations during quiet hours.

In March 2000, 5,542 residents from six communities near the base sued, seeking to ban any aircraft operations between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. They also sought a total of 6.24 billion yen (about $59.5 million) compensation for mental and physical damages, including hearing loss, which they claimed was caused by “explosive jet noise.”

In Thursday’s ruling, Chief Judge Kyoji Iida said that the government is responsible for mental suffering caused by military aircraft noise, including sleep disruption, discomfort and fear. He said the noise levels exceeded tolerable limits.

However, the court limited compensation to 3,881 of the plaintiffs who lived within neighborhoods he deemed were exposed to constant and unbearable aircraft noise.

The U.S. and Japanese governments have taken noise-reduction measures, including a 1996 agreement restricting 10 p.m.-6 a.m. aviation activities at the air base to the minimum necessary. Also, the Japanese government spent $1.3 billon to install soundproof windows in more than 42,000 homes and public buildings near the air base.

Such measures, however, did not effectively abate the noise in the worst-hit neighborhoods, Iida said.

“Even after an agreement to restrict noise was made by the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee, no remarkable reduction in the noise levels has been observed in the communities that are exposed to noise exceeding the permissible levels,” the judge said.

“Residents in such areas continue to be exposed to a considerable amount of intensive noise,” he said, adding that soundproofing was not an adequate solution.

The court, however, ruled that nighttime flying was a matter to be resolved under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

“Unless otherwise there is a specific clause in the bilateral treaty or a national law that restricts such activities, the Japanese government has no legal capacity to suspend them,” Iida wrote.

The three-judge panel also rejected an argument that aircraft noise caused some residents’ hearing loss.

“The court does not acknowledge any legal link between the aircraft noise and their noise-induced hearing loss,” Iida said.

After the court session, Toshio Ikemiyagi, the plaintiffs’ chief attorney, called the ruling “absolutely unacceptable.”

Seiyu Nakamura, who leads the group of the plaintiffs, vowed to appeal the decision.

“The court discarded about one-third of the plaintiffs who have suffered from the noise,” he said. “With rage, we will appeal.”


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