CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa -- Some Okinawa residents say they will continue to fight to halt U.S. military flights at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, even after being awarded $22.6 million for damages for aircraft noise.
The ruling Thursday by a three-judge panel at the Okinawa City Branch of Naha District Court says the Japanese government must pay 3,417 residents, working out to roughly $6,614 per plaintiff before legal expenses. They had sought $91.7 million.
The judiciary dismissed the plaintiffs' demand to halt flight operations at Futenma, leaving some upset and vowing to appeal.
"This country puts the Japan-U.S. security treaty above the constitution," Zenji Shimada, leader of the plaintiffs' group, said after the ruling. "There is no other way for us but to continue to fight until we win a ban on flight activities."
The lawsuit, filed in March 2012, sought compensation and a halt to flights, citing physical and mental damage that included sleep deprivation.
In its decision, the court criticized the Japanese government for failing to take drastic preventive measures, leaving residents continually exposed to the noise, which judges said is beyond permissible levels.
However, the judges also said they do not have the jurisdiction to weigh in on bilateral security treaties and thus cannot restrict U.S. military operations. They added there was no evidence that the operation of MV-22 Osprey aircraft at Futenma had increased noise levels or should reasonably lead to increased fears of crashes amongst the populace.
Japanese government officials had not yet decided whether to appeal the judges' ruling and reiterated their position that the remedy to the Futenma question was closing the air station and relocating air operations to the island's remote north at Camp Schwab at Henoko, a decision that has been met by small but fervent protests in recent years.
"When considering to maintain the deterrence power [of the military] and the danger posed to the communities from 'the world's most dangerous airfield,' our policy remains unchanged that moving the operations to Henoko is the only solution," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo after the ruling.
The Japanese government has paid out $295 million in noise compensation between 1993 and 2015, including $278 million for cases involving Yokota Air Base, Naval Facility Atsugi, Kadena Air Base and Futenma, Japan's Ministry of Defense said.
There are eight other ongoing lawsuits over military aircraft noise in Japan, including suits over Naval Air Station Atsugi and Yokota. Only one of those cases involves a Japanese Self-Defense Force base.