Draft impact statement on military plans out soon

The Commonwealth Joint Military Training Environmental Impact Statement draft is set for release today, April 3, and will be made available to the public and online as early as April 4.

In a brief overview of what to expect of the CJMT EIS, Marine Forces Pacific executive director Craig Whelden said the draft EIS/OEIS (Overseas Environmental Impact Statement) details the U.S military’s proposals for Tinian and Pagan.

The 20-page primer states that to rebalance military forces in the Asia Pacific region, the U.S military proposes to increase joint military training capabilities by developing live-fire ranges and training areas on Tinian and Pagan.

The U.S Marine Corps is leading this initiative on behalf of the U.S Pacific Command and includes proposed action for the use of the land, air and sea space for training purposes.

A 2009 Institute for Defense Analyses Study states that the Marianas are strategically poised in supporting the U.S Pacific Command throughout the Pacific and the greatest number of training deficiencies is in the CNMI.

In 2010, the quadrennial defense review—a legislatively mandated review of Department of Defense strategy and priorities—called for the development of additional training capabilities for unit, combined, and joint forces in the Western Pacific.

In 2013, a training needs assessment reiterated that the greatest number of training deficiencies exists in the CNMI and it identified unfilled training requirements. A key criterion is open access, which is not guaranteed in other regions.

In 2013, a CJMT requirements and siting study determined that Tinian and Pagan are the only islands capable of meeting the unit level and combined level screening criteria and only a combination of range and training areas on Tinian and Pagan could address the 42 unfilled training requirements.

The CJMT establishes a series of live-fire Range Training Areas or RTAs within the CNMI to address the U.S Pacific Service Components’ unfilled joint military training requirements. RTAs are live-fire ranges, training courses, maneuver areas, and associated support facilities located near one another.

Relation to Guam, Tinian, Pagan

Military training applies the “crawl, walk, and run” philosophy, in which a service member progresses from individual to combined level training.

Crawl phase is for individual level proficiencies that includes one small group or single crew with basic marksmanship and physical fitness and occurs more frequently than other training levels.

Walk phase is for unit level proficiencies that include small units—about 10 to 100 personnel—with mission essential tasks and ranges that are larger than basic level.

The Run phase is for combined level proficiencies that includes multiple types of units on ground, sea, air, and logistics to train together in larger and less frequent events. It provides an opportunity to simultaneously train all unit personnel and multiple functions, in a complex and dynamic setting.

Under the proposed action, a unit level for “walk” RTA is proposed on Tinian, a “run” RTA is proposed on Pagan, and the “crawl” RTA will be in Guam.

Alternatives

The National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA process requires federal agencies to look at a reasonable range of alternatives. For this specific CJMT, it focuses on Tinian and Pagan.

These alternatives were then refined to minimize impacts that includes segmented airspace, moved firing positions farther from population centers, and reduced night training.

For Tinian, there are three alternatives and for Pagan there are two.

The U.S military proposes a training tempo of 20 weeks per year of live-fire training on Tinian and 16 weeks per year of live-fire training on Pagan.

Of all the alternatives, the “preferred alternative” for both Pagan and Tinian is the second alternative, and may be based on a variety of factors in addition to impacts to the environment.

To meet the CJMT’s purpose and need, an alternative must include one on Tinian and one on Pagan.

Both alternatives show both minimal impact on the environment, according to the draft EIS/OEIS.

Environmental analysis

For Tinian and Pagan, an impact determination was made by the draft EIS/OEIS for the proposed action alternatives for each potential impact as to whether the impact would be less than significant or significant.

If the impact is significant, an additional determination was made if it could be reduced to “less than” significant after putting into action potential mitigation measures.

For Tinian, significant impacts that could not be mitigated to less than significant included geology and soils, noise, land and submerged land use, recreation, terrestrial biology, marine biology, visual resources, and socioeconomics.

For Pagan, significant impacts will be on its land and submerged land use, terrestrial biology, marine biology, and socioeconomics.

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Jayson Camacho | Reporter
Jayson Camacho covers community events, tourism, and general news coverages. Contact him at jayson_camacho@saipantribune.com.

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