Groups hold off on suing Navy over training project

Local and national environmental groups have held off, for now, on suing the Department of the Navy past an original 60-day notice given in February, upon further review of further information the groups said they have received from the Navy.

Alternative Zero Coalition, PaganWatch, and the nation-wide Center of Biological Diversity, among other groups, notified the Navy of their intent to sue two months ago, pinning the grounds of a lawsuit on the Navy’s and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service alleged failure to reconsider an expansive military training project in the Marianas despite newly declared and threatened species last October.

PaganWatch co-founder Peter Perez said yesterday that the groups are “in talks with the Navy to determine whether the Navy is taking the necessary steps to comply” with Endangered Species Act with respect to the Marianas Islands Training and Testing, or MITT, project and the newly endangered species.

“The Navy has provided the promised information, which we are reviewing,” Earthjustice, whose one of attorneys sent the notice to sue, also said in a statement.

Perez said they would be pleased if their notice letter prodded the Navy into complying with its obligations under the ESA, “but are not yet in a position to say whether or not it has.”

“If the Navy does not take the necessary steps to comply with its duty to protect the newly listed species, we intend to take the Navy to court,” Perez told Saipan Tribune.

Queries to a Navy spokesperson to confirm these developing “talks” were not immediately responded to as of press time yesterday.

In the February letter, Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said the Navy and the Service had violated and remains in ongoing violation of the ESA, arguing that the newly listed should have reinitiated consultation between the Service and Navy

Henkin quoted the Service’s own words in their final rule on the matter: “The [Marianas Islands Training and Testing area] opens up every island within the Mariana Archipelago as a potential training site.”

The Service said this “subsequently may result in negative impacts to any number of the 23 species addressed.”

The project increases “training activities in Guam, Rota, Saipan, Tinian, Farallon de Medinilla (increase in bombing), and Pagan,” the Service also said.

And “likely negative impacts include, but are not limited to, direct damage to individuals from live-fire training and ordnance, wildfire resulting from live-fire and ordnance, direct physical damage (e.g. trampling by humans, helicopter landing, etc.) to individuals, and spread of nonnative species.”

Henkin said the new rule made clear that the Navy training may affect the newly listed species—“triggering the obligation to reinitiate consultation.”

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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