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Court orders ¥140 million damages, but refuses Futenma flight changes

Date Posted: 2008-07-04

It took Ginowan City residents six years to win their point, partially, in a lawsuit against the Government of Japan that wanted Futenma Marine Corps Air Station ordered not to permit night and early morning flights, and then to receive damages from noise at the base.

The Naha District Court agreed the government can be held liable for noise damages, and ordered Japan to pay the 392 Futenma residents a total of $1.3 million compensation. The presiding judge ordered the Japanese government to pay for noise damage already caused, but said it could not rule on future damages. Judge Yoshimitsu Kawai said there was sufficient evidence to support the claims of mental suffering by Futenma residents, who claimed they couldn’t sleep or live their lives properly because of the noise.

Judge Kawai, in the same ruling, refused to order the Marine Corps base to curb its early morning and evening flights. The lawsuit was demanding a 7 p.m. to 7 p.m. moratorium of flights. He said the court didn’t have authority to interfere with military operations at Futenma.

Okinawa’s governor hailed the court ruling “a good judgment”, noting the court has for the first time made an official acknowledgement there’s a danger at Futenma. Hirokazu Nakaima said “Naha District Court has proven the danger Futenma poses, and the danger for explosions.”

Judge Kuwai confirmed that the 2004 crash of a Marine Corps CH-53 helicopter onto the campus of Okinawa International University in Ginowan City was enough to raise the fear and apprehension level of local residents. He noted that August accident “increased the psychological damage of the plaintiffs” and said the central government had not done all it could to protect local residents in Ginowan City. The court decision was the first ever against the Japanese government regarding Futenma MCAS.

Despite the partial victory, the plaintiffs say they’re not pleased, and are promising to appeal Kuwai’s decision. The group leader, Zenji Shimada, says that failure to order a stop to night flying means “I can only value the ruling at about 30%”. Shimada says “we didn’t fight for money. What we are wanting is peace and quiet, and as long as the flights continue, the noise continues, and we will not be at peace.”

Ginowan City’s mayor says he thinks the court-ordered payments of ¥3,000 a month to 75 residents “is a good judgment because it means the court has admitted damages to citizens comes directly from Futenma.” At the same time, Yoiichi Iha says “I feel sorry the court didn’t agree to consider future damages, and didn’t order the night flights to stop.”

A 78-year-old Futenma neighborhood resident complained “It was a hard judgment for us, because we’ve been fighting so long. It’s been almost 60 years and the helicopter noise is still almost the same as a typhoon sound.” He said “our house kitchen shelves shake every time a helicopter flies.” Seicho Tamaki recalls the noise from the time he first moved from Chatan to the Futenma area, and “after a while, our eldest son was born and he was crying all the time because of the noise.” Tamaki says his dream is to see “Futenma air station get out of here.”

A decision to move Futenma’s operations from Ginowan City to northern Okinawa’s Henoko district was approved in May 2006, but disputes between Okinawa’s Prefecture leadership and the Japanese and American governments over exact placement of the V-shaped runways has stalled the project. It is supposed to be complete by 2014, after which Futenma would close.

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