Okinawa residents’ complaints lead to helicopter noise survey
HENOKO, Okinawa — Japanese and U.S. officials — wary of complaints from residents living near air bases — conducted noise surveys Thursday of flight paths proposed for the new air facility on Camp Schwab.
Two CH-53 helicopters were in the air for about two hours, making several different passes so survey teams could record what effect the roar of the aircraft would have on the people below.
About 20 anti-base activists observing the flights, however, called the testing misleading.
"The residents here cannot feel what the real noise will be because helicopters do not always follow flight patterns," said Zenji Shimada, who led a group of residents near Marine Corps Air Station Futenma who successfully sued the Japanese government over noise from that facility. "They fly anywhere at any time.
"And just two helicopters? Don’t be fooled," he added. "Usually they come with three, five and sometimes six together."
The building of a new air station is part of a May 2006 agreement between the U.S. and Japan to close MCAS Futenma in urban central Okinawa and move air operations to the island’s Henoko Peninsula. Two V-shaped runways are planned along with support facilities.
The new facility is the key to a realignment of U.S. troops in Japan, Pentagon officials have said.
But opposition to the new heliport is mounting. In July, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly passed a resolution demanding the U.S. and Japan scrap plans to build it. Okinawa’s governor has demanded the runways be placed farther offshore to cut down on noise.
Thursday’s survey was requested by the Okinawa Defense Bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Defense. Results were not immediately available.
"In response to strong requests from the local communities, we conducted the survey so residents could experience the noise expected after operations begin at the new facility," said a bureau spokesman.
Some observers said the noise was a minor irritant.
"Today’s noise was not so bad," said Hidetoshi Yoshimoto, a 76-year-old fisherman. "I don’t think it would affect our community. But then, they did not fly as low as they do normally."