Judges dismiss injunction to stop Okinawa helipad construction
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2016
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — An Okinawa court has dealt a likely death blow to efforts to halt helipad construction related to the largest Okinawa land return from the U.S. military since 1972.
A three-judge panel from Naha District Court on Tuesday dismissed a provisional injunction to suspend construction on four helipads in a consolidated area of the remote Northern Training Area. Two of the six helipads have already been completed, and the others are expected to be finished this month.
The construction will facilitate the return of 4,000 of the Northern Training Area’s 7,542 hectares to the Japanese.
The injunction was an emergency measure filed in September at the same time as a lawsuit by 33 plaintiffs from Takae and Aha over noise concerns. With the suit projected to take years, the injunction was seen as the final means to halt the project.
“The environmental impact assessment conducted by the Japanese government is rationally acceptable,” the verdict read. “Operations of the [MV-22] Osprey at the helipads would not undo the rationality.”
Residents in the area surrounding the helipads are few, but they have complained of their houses shaking from low flyovers and near around-the-clock flights frightening family members. With four additional helipads, they expect things to get worse.
Protesters also seized upon the project, sparking demonstrations and arrests, because while the land being reverted is significant and has been touted by officials in Japan and Washington, it does nothing to reduce the disproportionate burden of U.S. troops on Okinawa.
In the panel’s decision, Judge Hajime Morikagi rejected residents’ claims that the noise would be harmful and the surrounding communities would become unlivable.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs disagreed and said resident would appeal to a higher court.
“Residents have been suffering enough from the noise today,” Yukito Oguchi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The ruling irresponsibly allows noise pollution, which is absolutely unacceptable. We will continue to protest against the construction of landing zones for the Ospreys.”
In the past month, courts have ordered the Japanese government to pay more than $30 million to residents living around Marine Corps Air Station Futenma over aircraft noise.