Scher believes military has submitted ‘good range’ of training alternatives

Alternative Zero says options are ‘narrow’

U.S. Department of Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities Robert M. Scher affirmed the National Environmental Policy Act during a press conference Thursday, saying that the U.S. military has considered a “good range” of training alternatives for proposed live-fire training on Tinian and Pagan.

However, Pete Perez of “Alternative Zero,” the group who opposes all live-fire training and bombing on the two islands, says, “They have not.”

Department of Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities Robert Scher, second from left, addresses reporters during a press conference last Thursday. With him, from left, are Marine Forces Pacific executive director Craig Whelden, Gov. Eloy S. Inos, and Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar. (Dennis B. Chan)

Department of Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities Robert Scher, second from left, addresses reporters during a press conference last Thursday. With him, from left, are Marine Forces Pacific executive director Craig Whelden, Gov. Eloy S. Inos, and Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar. (Dennis B. Chan)

“I think we have looked at a good range of things,” Scher said on Thursday. “But I fully expect that other people will come forward now that the draft is out there with other alternatives. And that is the point of the process in the end, that’s why we do this, that’s why this isn’t final, that’s why we already had ad-hoc meetings and why we’ll continue to have them.

“I expect there will be alternatives,” he said.

Scher was responding to questions from Saipan Tribune on whether he believed the military has considered a broad enough of training alternatives for their proposed live-fire and bombing, as well as alternatives with lesser impact as suggested by the CNMI government and people.

He was also directed to Guam, where in 2010, groups had sued the Department of Defense over the military selection of Pagat, an ancient Chamorro village and burial ground, as the site for a firing range complex.

The lawsuit, from the Guam Historic Preservation Trust, We Are Guahan, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said that the Navy was non-compliant with NEPA by failing to adequately consider alternative locations for live-fire complexes that would have less of an impact on the environment and historic sites.

While the Defense Department controlled approximately one-third of Guam, they failed to consider a single alternative for building their fire ranges on existing military property, the groups said.

In 2011—in what was called a victory by these groups, the Navy filed a declaration in federal court to order another supplemental review of proposed sites—essentially restarting the NEPA process over again.

Speaking toward the situation on Guam, Scher said, they “were able to come up with a compromise solution where both the people on the island and the U.S. military feel like we have a good solution for pursuing what all of us want.”

“If you look at the history of Guam, there were certain things we never thought about doing and they worked for everybody involved. I have every hope and expectation that we will get there for the CNMI.”

Perez and Alternative Zero, though, do not believe the military has laid out an adequate range of alternatives or even a true “no-action” alternative for the CNMI people to comprehend and respond to.

Similarly, Marc Fink, senior attorney of the Center of Biological Diversity, told Saipan Tribune last month that the CNMI Joint Military Training draft environmental impact statement “fails to consider alternatives in other regions.”

“We also think the Navy has violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the combined environmental impacts of these two [CJMT and Marianas Islands Training and Testing] proposals within the same EIS. Similar proposals in the same region at the same time must be considered together, in a single EIS,” Fink said then.

Perez, on Thursday, said any alternatives that consider other places would obviously result in lesser impact to the CNMI.

“When they don’t provide any, how can you possibly respond? It is very incomplete,” he said of the military’s proposals.

“I think we certainly feel that the EIS in the military’s presentation is inappropriately narrow and unfairly so,” said Perez.

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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