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Monday, April 21, 2014

‘NMI’s cultural resources inadequately accounted for in draft EIS’

The CNMI’s historic and cultural resources are “inadequately considered and/or accounted for” in a U.S. Navy draft study on a proposed expanded use of the Mariana Islands Training and Testing area, acting CNMI State Historic Preservation Officer Laura T. Ogumoro told the U.S. military.

Additional historical and archaeological survey work should be undertaken to preserve and protect these resources, she added.
Ogumoro was one of the CNMI government officials led by Gov. Eloy S. Inos that submitted comments to the draft environmental impact statement for the Mariana Islands Training and Testing area.

She said additional and testing activities proposed are acknowledged simply as “extension” of the military’s ongoing and planned activities under the Guam-CNMI relocation and range complex projects.

Therefore, according to Ogumoro, the “accumulated effects” of these military activities are “inadequately considered and/or accounted for” in the draft EIS.

“Moreover, the piecemeal and segmented approach to the military’s proposed activities in and near locations registered as National Historical Landmarks as embodied in the DEIS/OIES are inappropriate and must be properly addressed in the final Environmental Impact Statement before any Record of Decision is made,” Ogumoro said in a Dec. 12 letter to the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pacific out of Hawaii.

She cited, for example, “conservation measures and procedures” identified and described in the 2009 Mariana Islands Range Complex Programmatic Agreement but were not readily available in the draft study.

Ogumoro also said “archaeological resources” should include human remains that are sacred and can be viewed as traditional cultural resources.

She said there needs to be summary of what laws, acts, and regulations are required of federal agencies for the protection and preservation of cultural resources.

Ogumoro also said previous archival research and literature review indicates that at least 19 submerged historic resources exist within Tinian waters but only nine locations are known, “leaving 10 locations yet to be determined.”

For Saipan, at least 51 submerged cultural resources exist around the island’s waters but only the locations of 36 have been determined.

“That leaves 15 submerged historic resources locations within Saipan waters undetermined,” she said.

For Rota, at least 12 submerged cultural resources exist but only the locations of seven have been identified.

Ogumoro said throughout the document, it is repeatedly stating that the Navy will routinely avoid locations of known obstructions that include submerged historic resources.

“The main concern is the locations of submerged cultural resources that have not been determined which trainings and testing may be conducted,” she said.

She urges the implementation of underwater archaeological survey within waters around Tinian, Saipan, and Rota to determine the locations of submerged cultural resources.

“The results of this underwater survey, along with the already known locations of submerged cultural resources will be very important tools for determining safe areas for training and testing programs,” she added.

The governor, meanwhile, said in a separate comment letter dated Dec. 11 that the U.S. Department of Defense’s efforts to increase control over property belonging to the CNMI is “in conflict and contrary to Section 802 of the Covenant” that established the Northern Marianas’ political relationship with the United States. He said his administration is also “deeply concerned” about the proposed military activities’ impact on CNMI marine wildlife, particularly marine mammals “which remain grossly understudied in the region.”

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