Hocog vetoes bill to prohibit leases for live-fire training

Acting governor Victor B. Hocog on Friday vetoed a bill that would have prohibited the Department of Public Lands from entering into a lease for any military live fire or bombing activity.

The acting governor, in his Aug. 20 veto message, said the bill “contains a major constitutional deficiency.”

Other than the lease prohibition, Senate Bill 19-42, SSI, HDI, authored by Sen. Arnold Palacios, would have also required any public lease for any other military activity to be ratified by Northern Marianas Descent voters.

Hocog cited this requirement in explaining the constitutional deficiency.

He said in all likelihood the bill would not sustain a legal challenge on the requirement that only NMD voters may vote on a question of whether a public land lease for non-live for or bombing activity with the United States military may be approved.

“Neither the Covenant nor the Commonwealth,” Hocog wrote, “carves out an exception to voter eligibility for questions involving public land leases.”

“We must make sure that we are not forbidden by our constitution and laws when we decide on voter eligibility pertaining to this subject,” he added. “For these reasons, I am compelled to disapprove SB 19-42.”

Hocog, to close his letter, also reminded the Legislature that the CNMI and the U.S. are engaged in “902 talks,” or executive branch consultation, pursuant to the Covenant. Hocog noted that, “the centerpiece of the talks is the issue of the military’s expanded activities in the Commonwealth.”

Palacios’ bill, in its findings, noted how the CNMI Covenant made CNMI properties available to the U.S. military defense training. These were leases on Tinian and Saipan and the entire Farallon de Medinilla and its surrounding waters.

The bill notes, however, that FDM and its surrounding waters have been devastated and severely and permanently damaged as a result of the military bombing and training activities.

The bill says the Commonwealth did not anticipate such destruction, on both land and sea, when they negotiated the lease.

“With the scarce amount of land mass in the CNMI, it is imperative that our government preserve the remaining lands in the CNMI for future generations,” the bill states

The Department of Defense currently proposes to house a series of live-fire training complexes on Tinian inclusive for grenade, tank, pistol, and mortar activity.

They also propose to the lease of the entire island of Pagan for live fire training, inclusive of aerial bombing the island.

The training proposals come as part of the “CNMI Joint Military Training” project, which is still undergoing environmental review process after a chorus of public agencies balked at the deficiencies in the military’s environmental impact statement last year.

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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