The military will start incorporating the public comments it had gathered on a draft environmental impact statement on proposed “live-firing” exercises on Tinian and Pagan after conducting several public hearings on the issue.
According to Craig Whelden, executive director of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, the military will look for ways to address the public’s concerns and incorporate these concerns in the final EIS.
“We will collect of the public comments and we will incorporate them to the final EIS which will be released in July next year,” Whelden said in an interview with Saipan Tribune.
Most of the public comments in the hearings opposed any bombings on Pagan.
Whelden said one possible action that the military can include in the next EIS is reducing the area on Pagan where the “live-fire” exercises will be conducted.
“This was not included in the draft EIS, but we see this as a way to address some of the concerns,” Whelden said.
Aside from reducing the target areas, the military can also assign the targets in areas where there is lava, to reduce the impacts of the bombing on the island’s flora and fauna, he said.
Whelden said part of the proposed military exercises is to set up a volcano monitoring system on Pagan.
Hundreds of Pagan residents had to relocate to Saipan after a volcano on the island showed signs of activity. The island currently does not have any volcano monitoring system.
Whelden said the proposed military exercises in the CNMI are in line with President Obama’s plans to beef up U.S. presence in the whole of the Pacific. Is also for “economic reasons” that more U.S military presence is needed in the Pacific, he added.
The official said the CNMI government’s request for an extension of the review period of the draft EIS is still being studied, but a decision will be forthcoming this month.
The military held the first hearing on Saipan on April 29, followed by another on Tinian on April 30, and the last on Saipan on May 1.
All of the hearings drew hundreds, and the common sentiment was opposition to the proposed military activities on Tinian and Pagan.
The Friday hearing at Garapan Elementary School drew hundreds, and although most of the comments were generally the same, there were quite a few that offered insights on how the community feels about military presence in the CNMI.
Former representative Stanley Torres said the CNMI community supports the military, but not the proposed bombing. “Don’t bomb a small island,” Torres said.
He said the military and the community should look into the Covenant of the U.S. and Commonwealth and review it.
“There is a deficiency in the Covenant. And this [proposed military presence] is one of them,” the former lawmaker said.
For Rip Stephenson, a 30-year resident of the CNMI, the community is one in rejecting the proposed military exercises. A a long-time member of the community, he feels that people do not support the military presence. “How will this benefit us?” Stephenson asked.
Lucy Sablan said the issue of unexploded ordnance and “inert” bombs are a concern for her. “All I hear are bombs. So I don’t support these activities,” she said.
Ambrose Bennett, a former teacher, said the military is trying to “commandeer” Pagan. He said the goal of the military is “good,” but the military is wrong in its plan to conduct live-fire exercises on Tinian and Pagan.
Jack Muña said the military deserves a “salute” for giving the public a chance to voice their concerns via the public hearings. He, however, said the community is still not in favor of any bombings and military exercises in the CNMI.