The administration of Gov. Eloy S. Inos is looking to hire consultants to help it review and study a draft environmental impact statement on proposed military exercises on Tinian and Pagan.
Inos is also seeking for a six-month extension of the review period on the draft EIS.
The request is not unexpected, as calls for the extension began snowballing as soon as an initial presentation of the draft EIS was conducted last week.
Inos, in a letter dated April 10 to Craig Whelden, executive director of the U.S Marine Corps Forces Pacific, said the military’s 60-day window for the CNMI government to submit its written comments on the draft EIS is “unrealistic given the magnitude and gravity” of the military’s proposed actions.
Inos also wrote that the government is in the process of securing funding from the Office of Economic Adjustment to help the government on the review.
“We need time to finalize the grants, publish the request for proposals, award the contracts, and give consultants sufficient time to do the work,” Inos said, adding that the government will need the six-month extension to submit its written comments on the EIS.
“I understand that this is a significant amount of time to request, but the proposal to transform the CNMI for defense related purposes is an enormous undertaking which cannot be rushed to completion,” the governor said.
Lawmakers have described the draft EIS as too technical and a battalion of experts is needed for a comprehensive review of the document, which has more than 1,000 pages.
According to Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (Ind-Saipan), the military apparently spent a considerable amount of resources for the study.
The lawmaker said the draft EIS would have required the military to hire experts in various fields, including military and cultural affairs, as well as experts on terrestrial and marine biology, geology, environment, water resources, etc.
Quitugua, like other lawmakers, has cited the “technical” content of the draft EIS, which makes it a challenge to “fully digest” the whole study in a matter of days.
He said experts will also be needed to analyze and study the document.
Funding for Pagan
At a Senate session on Friday, Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) said lawmakers will work on assisting Northern Islands Mayor Jerome Aldan for a $75,000 funding to study the draft EIS, particularly on Pagan.
Igisomar said the budget will be used to hire a group to do the study on the EIS. He said a group from Guam is being eyed to conduct the study.
Pagan is part of the Northern Islands.
Aldan earlier voiced his strong opposition to a military plan to lease the whole of Pagan, as detailed in the EIS.
The draft EIS also indicated that “inert” bombs will be dropped on the islands as part of proposed military exercises.
Aldan earlier pushed for homesteading for some parts of Pagan, particularly for residents of the island who were displaced due to volcanic activity in 1984.
TA for EIS
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP), meanwhile, said the Department of the Interior has announced a technical assistance grant of $250,000 to the Commonwealth’s Office of the Governor to hire environmental experts to review the draft EIS.
Sablan said the funds are appropriated by Congress and allows the department to respond to “critical needs in the insular areas for which local funds are not available.”
In this case there is a critical need for expertise to evaluate plans to develop live-fire ranges and training areas on Tinian and Pagan as part of the U.S. military’s shift of forces in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.
“For some time I have urged the Commonwealth government to appropriate funds for this purpose, but local funds are in short supply. I commend Governor Inos for recognizing the importance of obtaining expert advice on the planned buildup and for reaching out successfully for federal financial assistance,” Sablan said.