Petition against military activity reaches over 113K signatures
Contrary to what those opposed to the U.S. Department of Defense’s proposed military activity in the CNMI are saying, Marine Corps Forces Pacific executive director Craig B. Whelden clarified that Pagan would be used as a training area and not a bombing range.
He added that, “it’s a false characterization to liken the military’s use of Pagan to Farallon de Mendenilla, Vieques, or Ko’olawe”—islands in the CNMI, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii, respectively, that were used by the military as bombing ranges.
“We have demonstrated in many locations around the world how the Department of Defense is a good steward of the environment. We would be so at Pagan as well,” Whelden said.
His assurance comes after the Change.org electronic petition drive launched to galvanize opposition to the military’s plan on Pagan and Tinian is said to have reached 113,821 signatures as of yesterday, June 23, 2015.
The MARFORPAC executive director said the CNMI has nothing to worry about as far as the military bombing Pagan is concerned.
He said the military’s preferred alternative, published in the CNMI Joint Military Training Plan Environmental Impact Statement draft, dropped the live-fire area in the middle of Pagan.
“Why did we do this? [It’s] because we listened to the people about impacts to the environment. We have also consistently said that the high hazard impact area would be limited to the volcanic area in the north, thereby protecting and preserving fauna and flora in the isthmus and in the south,” he said.
Whelden said that the military would look for opportunities for co-existence during the limited 16 weeks per year that the military would be on Pagan.
“We need an understanding of what the CNMI concerns are; as well as the CNMI’s vision for Pagan; then—through dialogue—the DoD can determine how those might be addressed in ways that could be beneficial for both sides,” he said.
“My team is meeting with the Department of Public Lands and the Commonwealth Ports Authority this week to discuss the existing lease on Tinian. I mentioned to [Department of Public Lands Secretary Pete A.] Tenorio last week that I will ask them to schedule with him a first ad-hoc meeting to address Pagan,” he added.
In regards to DPL’s planned trip to Pagan, Whelden thinks there would be some benefit for his team to accompany Tenorio to the island so they can better understand the CNMI’s aspirations for Pagan as well as the CNMI understanding the limitations and care of the military’s planned use of Pagan.
“It’s time to take the next step, by opening the dialogue to find out how we can both benefit by the DoD’s use (for training) of an island we recognize has special significance to the people of the CNMI. There is no commitment made by sitting down and talking. We may just learn that there are benefits to both sides,” he said.