Wednesday night’s public hearing on a draft environmental impact statement on proposed “live-fire” military exercises in the CNMI brought out sentiments about the “incalculable” and “irreparable” damage it will bring to the Commonwealth.
According to some of the comments, even experts will be hard put to put a dollar value to what will be destroyed once bombs are dropped and live munitions are fired on Tinian and Pagan.
The U.S. military conducted the hearing on Wednesday at the cafeteria of the Saipan Southern High School to gauge public sentiment on its proposed military exercises.
The more than a hundred attendees submitted written and oral comments on the draft EIS, and all of the comments—at least the oral comments—indicate that majority in the community opposes the planned military exercises.
Most of those who gave oral comments also said they are not against the military and its goal of defending its insular areas, but are against the firing of munitions and dropping bombs.
Questions were fielded to the military representatives who were at hand to listen to the public. To regulate the session, those who gave their oral comments were given three minutes each.
A second hearing, this time at the Garapan Elementary High School on Friday, is also expected to draw a sizable crowd.
No to Pagan bombing
When it comes to bombings, the island of Farallon de Medinilla was often discussed. It is considered the smallest island in the CNMI and has been the target of U.S military bombings for many years.
Many often mention the “tragedy” of the tiny, uninhabited island, and what it has become after years and years of being subjected to military bombings, this despite the presence of migratory birds and other marine and terrestrial wildlife on the island.
Many fear that this also might happen to Pagan.
For Rep. Vinson Sablan (Ind-Saipan), a representative of the 19th Legislature and the first to give a comment during the four-hour hearing, the military should give a clearer explanation of why it is choosing Pagan, particularly for bombing exercises.
He said he is making it clear that he is not against the military per se, but he is opposing any military exercises on Pagan, which is under Precinct 4 that Sablan represents in the Legislature.
Jack Muña, a community leader from Koblerville, echoed Sablan’s sentiments, asking why bomb an island like Pagan, which is considered a “virgin” island.
Bruce Bateman, marketing manager of the Marianas Visitors Authority, said military exercises are “absolutely incompatible” with tourism.
Bateman emphasized that he is not speaking on behalf of the MVA but as a concerned citizen of the CNMI. “Our tourism assets are tiny. What we have are friendly people, and 14 islands,” Bateman said, adding that military exercises will take these assets away.
Ron Smith, representing the Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, said any chance of turning some of the islands of the Commonwealth into military assets, particularly Pagan, will mean taking away the CNMI’s chance to cash in on “sustainable tourism.”
He said once military exercises push through, there will be no turning back.
Keena Palacios, one of the several elementary students to stand and give their comments, said the military exercises would “disrupt the peace” in the CNMI.
She said like the other members of the community, she also wonders why the military would consider dropping bombs on Pagan where rare animals are found. “We do not want endangered species, like the Pagan dove, to go away,” she said
Janelyn Cruz, a sixth grader, said there are other islands that the military can use. She said why not find these islands and conduct the exercises there instead of Pagan, where valuable minerals and animals are found.
For PaganWatch founder Pete Perez, once the military exercises start “it is all over.”
He lamented that even now, islands that have been used for military exercises are littered with tons of waste, from ordnance—which failed to explode—to chemicals that continue to pollute the oceans.
Liana Hofschneider, a leader of the Council for Chamorro Advancement, narrated that her husband, Richard Hofschneider, suffered cancer.
While she said she did not blame the military’s war activities on Tinian—where her husband resided for many years—she wonders about the damage that another military presence will bring to the island and what would be the effects of these to residents years from now.
She cited a “massive bomb pit” that continues to exist today.
According to her, the U.S. military had three nuclear bombs during World War II and two of those were dropped on Japan.
“We are now wondering where the third bomb is,” she said.
For CNMI resident and athlete Steven Johnson, the military’s draft is “difficult to digest,” and it is apparent that the study is “bloated and sloppy.”
He also said while the study involved numerous surveys of flora and fauna, there were no attempts to involve the community in the ongoing study. He added that it seems the study was conducted “in secrecy.”
It has been reported that the draft EIS was conducted for many years and involved millions of dollars in resources.
Perhaps the most interesting comment on what Pagan has—in terms of natural resources—came from Herman A. Cabrera, who said studies done on Pagan showed its promise as a major source of “pozzolan.”
Waving a copy of his report, pozzolan, Cabrera said, is a valuable raw material that can be used for the construction of highways, dams, bridges, docks, and sewer systems, among others.
“There are millions, if not over $1 billion worth of pozzolan at the north part of Pagan island. This pozzolan is a high quality natural mineral and is in fact, the best in the world,” Cabrera said, citing studies from Guam and Taiwan.
In an interview with Saipan Tribune while the hearing took a short recess, Cabrera said “there are about 69.2 million metric ton of pozzolan” found on the island.
He said instead of military activities, perhaps the government can focus on developing this sustainable resource. “No to military activities on Pagan. Pozzolan is one our greatest valuable natural resources in the CNMI,” Cabrera said.