Navy sued over live-fire plans

Four environmental and cultural preservation groups filed yesterday a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Navy, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, U.S. Department of Defense, and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter over the Navy’s decision to station permanently thousands of U.S. Marines in Guam and to conduct live-fire training for those Marines on Tinian and Pagan.

The Tinian Women’s Association, Guardians of Gani, PaganWatch, and Center for Biological Diversity, are suing the defendants for violation of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Administrative Procedure Act (APA)—failure to consider relocation to Guam and associated live-fire training in a Single Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), and failure to consider alternatives.

The complainants, through counsel Kimberlyn K. King-Hinds, asked the U.S. District Court for the NMI to declare that the defendants have violated and are violating the NEPA and APA by adopting and relying on the legally deficient Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and SEIS to issue records of decision regarding the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to the Mariana Islands.

The plaintiffs requested the court to vacate and set aside the 2010 and 2015 records of decision regarding the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to the Mariana Islands.

The plaintiffs demanded payment for court costs and attorney’s fees.

Cinta M. Kaipat of PaganWatch stated that she spent many happy years of her childhood growing up on Pagan and that close family members were there when the volcano erupted in 1981 and were forced to flee.

“Many of us want to return and resettle Pagan. For those who lived there, Pagan remains their homeland. We do not want to see it obliterated by the military,” said Kaipat in a press release.

Tinian Women’s Association’s Florine Hofschneider stated that when the Northern Marianas agreed to remain part of the U.S., destroying the northern two-thirds of Tinian with live-fire training and bombing was never part of the deal.

“We refuse to accept the Navy’s plan to subject our children to nearly constant bombardment,” Hofschneider said in a press statement.

Earthjustice attorney David Henkin stated that the Navy’s decision would have devastating consequences for the people of Tinian and Pagan.

Henkin said NEPA requires the Navy to take a hard look at all of the impacts associated with relocating 5,000 Marines to Guam and to look at alternative ways to accomplish its goals before making such a decision.

“The Navy blatantly violated those mandatory legal duties when it decided to station Marines on Guam without any consideration of the destruction from live-fire training the Navy claims those Marines will need or of other places those Marines could be trained with far fewer impacts,” Henkin said in a press statement.

King-Hinds stated in the complaint that in July 2010, the Navy issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate the relocation of approximately 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The relocation was proposed to implement an agreement the U.S. and Japan reached in 2006 to reduce the number of Marines permanently stationed on Okinawa.

King-Hinds said despite numerous public comments urging the Navy to examine alternate locations for the stationing of Marines relocated from Okinawa, the Navy refused to do so.

King-Hinds said in its FEIS, the Navy claimed that Guam was the only location for the realignment of these forces that could satisfy the U.S.’ national security needs and treaty obligations.

King-Hinds said FEIS concluded that Guam could not accommodate all required live-fire training ranges, and, accordingly, the Navy looked outside Guam for locations to build and operate live-fire ranges.

The lawyer said despite numerous public comments urging the Navy to analyze locations outside the Mariana Islands to build and operate live-fire ranges for the relocated Marines, the Navy refused to do so.

The FEIS stated that the relocated Marines would need the following live-fire ranges on Tinian: a rifle known distance range, an automated combat pistol/military police firearms qualification course, a platoon battle course, and a field firing range.

King-Hinds said the FEIS noted that proposed training would not use heavy machine guns, mortars, artillery, rockets or missiles.

On Sept. 20, 2010, the Navy issued its record of decision based on the FEIS. In the 2010 record of decision, the Navy decided to relocate the approximately 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam and to build and operate the live-fire ranges on Tinian described in the FEIS.

In 2012, U.S. and Japan modified their 2006 agreement on reducing the number of Marines stationed on Okinawa.

Under the revised agreement, approximately 9,000 Marines would leave Okinawa, but only approximately 5,000 would be relocated to Guam.

After the 2010 record of decision issuance, King-Hinds said, the Navy reassessed the live-fire training required for Marines to be relocated to Guam to carry out their mission, concluding that the live-fire training analyzed in the FEIS and selected in the 2010 record of decision would not be adequate.

Instead, King-Hinds said, the Navy concluded that substantially more intense and destructive live-fire training was necessary, requiring the use of artillery, mortars, rockets, amphibious assaults, attack helicopters and warplanes, and ship-to-shore naval bombardment.

The lawyer said the Navy further concluded that this ramped-up training could not be conducted on Tinian alone, but rather that live-fire ranges would have to be constructed and operated on both Tinian and Pagan.

King-Hinds said the live-fire training on Tinian that the Navy now deems necessary for Marines to be stationed on Guam includes, but is not limited to, a high hazard impact area where high explosives from ground-based and aviation training activities would be employed.

King-Hinds said that on Pagan, which the 2010 FEIS concluded was neither needed nor suitable for training Marines to be stationed on Guam, the Navy now contends it must establish a high hazard impact area centered on Mount Pagan to support ground-based, air-to-ground and ship-to-shore live-fire training.

On Aug. 28, 2015, the Navy issued its record of decision based on the SEI 2015.

King-Hinds said the 2015 record of decision reaffirmed the Navy’s 2010 decision to relocate Marines from Okinawa to the Mariana Islands, despite the lack of any final NEPA analysis of the live-fire training on Tinian and Pagan the Navy deems necessary for those Marines to conduct their mission or any consideration of stationing and/or training locations outside the Mariana Islands.

King-Hinds argued that defendants violated NEPA by failing to consider within a single EIS the overall cumulative impacts of relocating Marines to Guam and the live-fire range construction and operations on Tinian and Pagan the Navy has concluded are necessary to train Guam-based Marines to carry out their mission.

King-Hinds said the Navy’s reliance on the legally deficient FEI and SEIS to issue its records of decision to proceed with the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to the Mariana Islands “was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with law, and/or without observance of procedure required by law within the meaning of the APA.”

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.