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Friday, April 25, 2014

One more NMI islands eyed for military use

The U.S. Department of Defense is moving to expand its training activities in the Northern Islands.

The Defense Department and the CNMI government, through Lt. Gov. Diego Benavente, recently received approval from the Marianas Public Lands Authority to study the environmental effects that bombing activities might have on Anatahan and Sariguan.

According to MPLA, the U.S. military is planning to use one of the two northern islands as ranges for “inert electronic training,” which involves aiming non-explosive bombs to stationary electronic targets on land.

Currently, the U.S. military conducts live fire training exercises on Farallon de Mendenilla. Live explosives inadvertently destroy the non-explosive targets, MPLA noted.

On the other hand, inert electronic training only has some minor effects “due mainly to the heavy construction of the bombs, although the bombs are not live explosives.”

MPLA also reported that the same safety zone requirements would apply to inert electronic training as live fire exercises. Training could only be done in areas remote from human population. Further, no civilian activity would be allowed within a 25-mile radius during training and 10-mile radius at all times.

U.S. Defense personnel are expected to begin conducting the environmental feasibility study on Anatahan and Sariguan this month.

The federal government will fund the study and share its findings with the Commonwealth. CNMI regulatory officials will also be invited to observe the conduct of the assessment.

The project is expected to be completed in June 2005.

“If it is environmentally feasible to conduct such an activity, DoD proposes that the CNMI/MPLA enter into a permit term for a user fee, as opposed to a lease of real estate,” MPLA said. “The data would be invaluable even if the studies [did] not support the proposed activity.”

The CNMI is currently negotiating with the U.S. Department of Defense on the extension of the Tinian leaseback agreement, whose initial 10-year term expired on Aug. 8, 2004.

Aside from the extension, the government also wants to amend some of the terms and conditions of the 1994 agreement to include other uses within the leaseback property.

Under the 1994 agreement, the CNMI government is allowed to use the leaseback properties for agricultural and grazing purposes only. However, the government now wants to use the property for commercial and other activities.

A provision in the CNMI’s Covenant with the United States allowed the U.S. military to lease 17,799 acres of land and waters on Tinian, 177 acres in Tanapag Harbor on Saipan, and the entire Farallon de Mendinilla, which has an approximate area of 206 acres.

The federal government paid a total of $19.52 million for a 50-year lease of the CNMI public lands. The lease will be effective until 2028.

In 1994, the Commonwealth and the U.S. Department of Defense signed a leaseback agreement so the Tinian government could use a portion of the public lands leased to the military.

The leaseback agreement has since been amended, leaving only about 5,800 acres of land located in the middle of the Tinian covered by the agreement.

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