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Friday, April 25, 2014

Comments sought on military plan to expand activities

Increased levels of weapons use on Farallon de Medinilla, amphibious vehicle landing exercises on three Tinian beaches, and training at Marpi on Saipan and at Rota’s airport are just a few of the U.S. military’s latest proposed activities within the Mariana Islands Training and Testing study area, and the community has only until Nov. 12 to comment on a draft study on these activities’ potential environmental impacts.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider are urging the public to review the U.S. Navy’s draft Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement on the MITT study area, and submit their comments on it.

“We would like to hear from the community about any concerns or worries they might have related to the potential environmental impacts of these new military activities proposed in the CNMI,” the governor said in a statement.

The draft EIS is available for download at http://mitt-eis.com.

Comments can be submitted via the website, at public meetings that will be rescheduled, or mailed to: Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pacific, Att. MITT EIS/OEIS ProjectManager, 258 Makalapa Drive, Suite 100, Pearl Harbor, HI 96860-3134.

All comments are due on Nov. 12, 2013.

The proposed MITT activities include increasing the size of the current military range of operations area to the north and west boundaries of the existing Mariana Islands Range Complex.

Sea-based activities in and around the CNMI include sonar, torpedo, and missile testing.

Land-based activities in the CNMI include amphibious vehicle landing exercises at Unai Chulu, Unai Babui, and Unai Dankulo beaches on Tinian, training activities at the Saipan Marpi Maneuver Area and the Rota International Airport.

Also proposed are increased levels of ordnance or weapons use at FDM, which is home to several seabird nesting colonies, including the largest Masked Booby nesting site and one of only two nesting sites of the Great Frigate bird in the Marianas. Two endangered species—the Micronesian megapode and Marianas fruit bat—are also found on FDM.

This comes a few months after Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Arnold I. Palacios sent a memo to the governor stating that the U.S. Navy’s proposal to increase restricted areas surrounding FDM can only be an indication of significant increase in bombings “that will destroy the island and its surrounding reefs.”

Palacios questions the military’s finding that the proposed expansion of danger zones and restricted space surrounding FDM pose “no significant impact” on the environment and economy.

He said these findings are “incorrect” and “simply false.”

Under the draft EIS, the Navy proposes to increase the number of small-caliber rounds used on FDM from 2,900 to 42,000, and the number of missiles and rockets from 60 to 2,085.

It also proposes to increase the number of grenades and mortars from 100 to 600; the number of large-caliber projectiles from 1,000 to 1,200; and the number of bombs up to 2,000 lbs in size from 2,150 to 6,241 bombs.

The draft EIS also says that an “Mk 84” 2000-lb bomb can kill or injure wildlife and disturb vegetation across a 60-acre area.

FDM is the only area in the CNMI that the U.S. military uses for live fire training since 1976, pursuant to a lease agreement between the U.S. and CNMI governments. The lease is for 50 years with a possible 50-year extension.

The Inos administration said the draft EIS addresses potential environmental effects of these proposed activities on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, FDM, and the surrounding waters.

These effects may include erosion of lands and subsequent sedimentation of reef systems, contamination of freshwater and marine water, air pollution, effects on fish populations, essential fish habitat and marine habitat areas of particular concern, effects of sonar and missile testing on whales and dolphins, interference with sea turtle nesting, and impacts on seabird nesting colonies on FDM.

Others include changes to marine vegetation, impacts on coral reef species, impacts on federally and locally listed endangered species including the Micronesian megapode and Marianas fruit bat, fishing restrictions and limitations to accessibility to tourist sites, and impacts on cultural resources.

For more information about the draft EIS, contact the CNMI’s Military Integration Management Committee in the Lt. Governor’s Office at 664 2300 or mimc.marianas@gmail.com; Division of Fish and Wildlife acting director Manny Pangelinan at 664 6002 or 6003 or mmpangelinan@gmail.com; Laura T. Ogumuro, acting State Historic Preservation Officer, at 664-2584/2587 or lauratogumoro@gov.mp; Lainie Zarones, CRM lead coastal planner, at 664 8305 or lzarones@gmail.com; Becky Skeele, CRM coastal resources planner, at 664 8316 or rebecca.skeele.crm@gmail.com; or Ryan Okano, DEQ ecologist, at 664 8524 or ryanokano@deq.gov.mp.

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