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.”

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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

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  • Tinalakattne Yantitiyas

    US Mil has a process to abide by. They did not. Their failing. Why should we pay the price? As the US recognizes in our covenant, we have very little precious land. Its no choice, we must protect our lands for our future generation. Biba Marianas!

  • Don Farrell

    We, the people of Tinian, have opposed the proposed heavy artillery ranges and air-to-ground operations because it will impair inter-island transportation and it create a “Dudded Impact Area,” a place where duds, those shells that land but do not explode, will end up buried in the ground and cannot be removed. That would violate the technical agreement to the Covenant — they would not be able to return the property to our descendants in the same condition in which they received it. That is why immediately after first hearing and reading the CJMT proposal, we insisted that before they create a new dudded impact area, they clean up the mortar range at Blowhole first. That mission has not been accomplished and I seriously doubt they can.

    To our favor, the NEPA system has worked. The outpouring of comments from Tinian, Saipan, the CNMI, the Marianas, across America, was so strong that the Navy/Marine Corps withdrew their plan. That is good.

    They have stated they will have a new plan for us in the Spring. I will believe it when I see it.

    When that plan is released, if it includes any kind of artillery range, or air-to-ground bombing range that will create a dudded impact area, that is the time to file a law suite. Anything before will be thrown out on procedural grounds, because the Navy/Marine Corps have already announced they heard the message. We must give them the opportunity to see the light!

    Let’s be patient, put our ducks in order, put our energy into a hometown problems, and enjoy another beautiful sunset.


    • Chamole

      I wish that it was true that “the Navy/Marine Corps withdrew their plan”. Unfortunately, they did not. What they did announce, as a result of the huge public response (30,000+ comments) and very powerful and pursuasive agency (DLNR, BECQ, HPO, etc.) comments, is that the Navy is re-doing its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for
      the CNMI Joint Military Training (CJMT) project. A revised DEIS is
      expected to be released in March, 2017.

      Their announcment is here:

      The danger is far from over, but we are gaining support and getting stronger and more effective in opposing their unwarranted and unnecessary plans. One day, hopefully soon, this will be behind us and we can get back to our lives and families and sunsets!

  • agnosic1

    The court filing referred to in this article appears to be a ‘blanket’ filing aimed at remote contingencies that aren’t even on the drawing board as of yet. The major issue is using Pagan for Marine Corps training. Is the CNMI being unduly burdened?

    By way of example, San Clemente Island is 75 miles west of San Diego. In World War 2, it was used as a ‘live fire’ training site for US Marines from Camp Pendleton, units of which went on to successfully capture both the Marshall Islands and The Marianas from the Japanese Empire.

    If San Diego can had have a ‘live fire’ training site 75 miles away at San Clemente Island, Saipan can have the same 200 miles away on Pagan. Certainly the military is cognizant of environmental concerns and ‘live projectiles’ could be used, but with dead (dummy) shells.

    “The Fourth Marine Division in World War 2” Edited by Carl W. Proehl

    San Clemente Island:

    • Juanita Mendiola

      Tell them to go back to San Clemente Island then and let see what Californians have to say about it. Make sure that you tell them to implement exactly what they have planned for Tinian and Pagan. Let us see what Californians will say about it. If they agree then maybe, just maybe, we will accept a base to be built here but not for the purpose of live fire bombing ranges.

      • agnosic1

        Profoundly uninformed response, Juanita. San Clemente Island IS a live firing range:

        “[San Clemente Island] is owned and operated by the United States Navy, and is a part of Los Angeles County. … It is the Navy’s only remaining ship-to-shore live firing range, and is the center of the integrated air/land/sea San Clemente Island Range Complex covering 2,620 nm2 (8,990 km2)”

        “During World War II, the island was used as a training ground for amphibious landing craft. These small to mid-sized ships were crucial to the island hopping that would be required to attack the islands occupied by the Japanese.”

        (source: Wikipedia)

        • Juanita Mendiola

          So, it is. However, I said, tell them to go back to San Clemente and implement exactly what they plan for the CNMI. What I did not mention is the extent to which they planned activities under CJMT, MIRC and MITT. Meanwhile, for your information, the Navy had to scale down their exercises in San Clemente due to pressure from environmental activists and activities are far below the planned activities in the CNMI. So, no. I am not uninformed. The fact that they have included a pathway in their EIS connecting MIRC, HRC and SCRC can pretty much give you an idea of how deep you need to dig for a clearer picture of what will be taking place in MIRC, MITT and CJMT. The fact that the Navy had introduced all these separately and attempted to deflect deeper scrutiny by doing so can also guide you to where you need to dig into. I humbly apologize that I do not have time to share all this with you in this blog.

          • agnosic1

            I look forward to your Op Ed article in the Saipan Tribune. The more dialogue on this subject the better, for all concerned.

          • Juanita Mendiola

            We did publish some already. They are all in the Tribune or Variety. We are waiting for the re-drafted EIS to do more..

          • agnosic1

            “China Holds Live-fire Navy Drills in East China Sea”
            Associated Press
            Aug 02, 2016


          • Tinalakattne Yantitiyas

            Only one dialog Sir or Ma’am. That is “NO” to the usage of Pagan or any other islands. Secondly, even though Tinian was leased a while back to US Mil, they should be held to highest standard of accountability in protection of the water table and ecosystem of the island.

    • Tinalakattne Yantitiyas

      Yes, CNMI being unduly burden. CNMI is comprised only of about 13 islands. 2/3 of Tinian is leased to US Mil and using 1 island (Farallon De Mendinilla) for bombing runs, and three other islands (Pagan, Anatahan, Agrihan) are active volcanoes.

      On the Covenant agreed upon, the US admits to the scarcity of lands for the indigenous people. So yes, it truly is an undue burden for the folks of CNMI.

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