The Bureau of Environmental Coastal Quality will keep its eye on potential military impacts to water, land, and air, ahead of draft environmental statement reportedly due in April for a proposed joint live fire training on Tinian and Pagan.
BECQ will also have another avenue through the federal consistency provision of the Coastal Zone Management Act to express their concerns over impacts to coastal resources, on top of the National Environmental Protection Act review that’s currently ongoing.
Under this provision, federal agency activities must comply to “the maximum extent possible” with local coastal management plans and law.
Both NEPA and federal consistency will give the CNMI a chance to express its concerns to the military. The federal consistency process will play out after public commenting on the draft Environmental Impact Statement.
When asked what areas of concern BECQ is eyeing, administrator Frank Rabauliman said, “The whole gamut.”
“Water, land, air,” he added. “We’re concerned about the threats to the corals, the threats to the flora, the fauna.”
He said he initially had thought the military was going to have separate impact statements for Tinian and Pagan but because they are combined, he said his bureau will have to provide comments “that would be sweeping.”
“[Military officials] haven’t come out with a document that says this is the scope of our operation [the EIS]. The only document that I am aware of is the letter of Intent to Proceed with the EIS. …You look at that document and they pretty much put everything on the table: mine warfare, aerial bombardment, artillery fires—everything that you could use to do conduct multinational training is on the table,” he said.
“So in talking to my staff, what we need coming to the table—because that’s the only document that I am aware of that is black and white—is to realize that’s the scope of work that they are proposing because it is in the Federal Register,” he added.
Leading the federal consistency process is federal programs specialist Megan Jungiwattanaporn of the Division of Coastal Resource Management, under BECQ.
“DCRM’s mandate is to both protect conservation and development opportunities as related to the coastal zone,” she told Saipan Tribune. “We’ll be looking at our laws and seeing whether the military is complying with them. If they aren’t, we’ll have opportunities under the NEPA process to voice our concerns and again under the federal consistency process to negotiate with the military,” she said.
She clarified that “maximum extent practicable” means federal activity should be fully consistent with CNMI laws unless a federal legal requirement prohibits full consistency.
“It would be the [Department of Defense’s] job to tell us what law that is,” she said. “DOD will send us a federal consistency letter saying whether they comply with our laws or not. We’ll have a chance to concur or object. If the CNMI objects, we’ll have a chance to negotiate with the military. If we can’t resolve our differences, we can ask [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] to help mediate. The federal consistency process ends here.”
If a solution is still not found, the CNMI could look at other processes, including litigation, she said.