Guam activists on Pagan issue: Lawsuit an option

With local concern growing over the proposed military use of Pagan Island, the CNMI could look to Guam, where in 2010 the U.S. Department of Defense was sued over their preferred use of Pagat, an ancient Chammoro settlement, for live-fire training.

“The CNMI has a lot to learn from the strategy that we took, [which] wasn’t so much a strategy as really just staying involved through the entire [National Environmental Protection Act] process from start to finish,” Ana Maria Won Pat-Borja, a Guam lawyer, told Saipan Tribune.

The Guam Preservation Trust, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and We are Guahan sued the Department of Defense in November 2010 over its environmental impact statement that named Pagat as the preferred site for the building of a complex of firing ranges.

The lawsuit claimed the military failed to adequately consider alternative locations that would have less of an impact on the environment and historic sites, and further alleged the military failed to adequately examine the environmental consequences of its actions, according to an Associated Press article.

Borja was a We Are Guahan activist and an intern for the law firm SNR Denton at the time.

Borja said a lawsuit is not necessarily the exact route the CNMI should take, but noted that in Guam they first did everything they felt they could do until “options were exhausted ’til there were none.”

“What I encourage the CNMI to do is to be actively involved right from the very beginning, during the scoping process, through the EIS commenting period, the final EIS, and the record of decision, [and] then when that doesn’t work out, then through a lawsuit,” Borja said.

In Guam, the lawsuit led Defense in 2013 to agree to prepare a supplemental EIS, essentially restarting the NEPA process so that other alternative sites could be considered.

“We were fortunate enough to have the result that we wanted, which was to take Pagat off the table,” Borja said.

The scoping period for the proposed firing ranges on Pagan and Tinian closed in 2013, with a final scoping summary report released in August of that year.

Currently the military is preparing the environmental impact statement/overseas environmental impact statement for the potential effects of live-fire military training on Pagan and Tinian.

The NEPA process takes about three years, with the scoping period and EIS entailed and a final decision scheduled for release in 2015.

‘Genuine dialogue’
Joseph Corteza, another We Are Guahan activist, said that a problem that may be faced here and in Guam is that the community is not as informed as it should be.

Certeza was a community organizer during the Pagat issue and recalled one problem faced then was the language Defense presented during the NEPA process.

He said Guam was given 11,000 documents to sift through by the department.

“Not many people on Guam or Saipan can understand that jargon. You think about the time constraint, you’re given only 60 days to do commenting, but also the magnitude of documents given to the community,” he said.

Because of this, he emphasized “good, genuine dialogue” within the community as well as being involved as early as possible in the process.

“Whatever is happening here on Saipan and NMI and in Gani [Northern islands], [it is] pretty much your responsibility, it is up to you to decide if you want to give up these islands or not, and I hope everyone protects these islands because they are sacred,” he said.

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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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