A ranking official of the U.S. military’s Pacific forces said he is pleased to hear that the CNMI government is planning to use funding from the Office of Insular Affairs to review a draft environmental impact statement on proposed military exercises on Tinian and Pagan.
The OIA is an agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Craig Whelden, executive director of U.S Marine Corps Forces Pacific, in a letter also said the grant money “should greatly assist the CNMI’s review and preparation” of comments on the draft EIS.
Whelden was responding to a letter sent by Gov. Eloy S. Inos early this month asking for a six-month review extension of the draft EIS instead of just 45 days.
“As stated in your letter, a six-month extension is a significant amount of time beyond the standard 45-day comment period. While the DEIS is admittedly lengthy, it has been shaped by over 18 months of collaborative effort between the Department of Defense and CNMI officials through regularly held working meetings,” Whelden said, acknowledging the governor’s request.
However, Whelden said he cannot yet make a decision on the review extension until after the series of public hearings scheduled on April 29, April 30, and May 1.
He said the hearings on Saipan and Tinian are part of the public comment process, and will provide DoD “an opportunity to present the results of our efforts and engage with the CNMI public, community leaders, and other interested parties to address questions and hear any remaining concerns.”
“Once my team has had an opportunity to assess initial comments, up to and including those received at the public hearings, I will be in a better position to consider your request,” he said.
The proposed funding for a review of a draft EIS on proposed U.S. military activities has reached $400,000.
This, after members of the Tinian and Aguigan Legislative Delegation adopted a resolution allocating $50,000 to Tinian to fund a review of the draft EIS for the municipality.
The Senate is also working on a $75,000 funding for the Northern Islands for the same purpose. Pagan is part of the Northern Islands.
The proposed funding for Tinian and the Northern Islands is separate from a $275,000 federal funding for the Inos administration.
An advisory consultant is also being sought.
One of the primary goals of the advisory consultant is to “ensure that the Office of the Governor is well versed on the relevance of the DEIS and has a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of how the Department of Defense proposed action impacts the CNMI, including the direct and indirect impacts, especially those that are less obvious and potentially harmful over the long term operation of live-firing (high explosives) training ranges.”
Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan) earlier said a decision may be forthcoming in the first or second week of May, quoting the military.
Demapan, who chairs the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs, earlier sent a similar letter to the military requesting an extension of the draft EIS review period.
The lawmaker said that rejecting this request would be an “injustice” to the people.