In his strongest statement to date on the U.S. military’s proposed live-fire training ranges on Pagan and Tinian, Gov. Eloy S. Inos said yesterday he will not support artillery ranges on both islands for safety reasons and pointed out that Pagan alone is an “uphill battle.”
Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz and House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) separately welcomed the governor’s public statement, hoping it will galvanize the CNMI’s position on simultaneous military plans on the islands.
“It’s going to be a totally different Tinian,” Inos said, if artillery ranges are allowed on the island, two-thirds of which is already under lease to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The governor is expected to bring the CNMI’s message to Hawaii where he and Guam Gov. Eddie B. Calvo will meet with the U.S. Pacific Command. He said he is set to leave this Sunday.
Inos’ statement comes on the heels of his meeting this week with visiting Federal Aviation Administration officials and his administration’s meeting with Marianas Forces Pacific officials last week.
The governor said it was never envisioned that Tinian will host artillery, what he described as “big guns.” He said live-fire training ranges using “small arms” was initially planned and that’s something that’s acceptable.
Inos was referring to a 2010 Record of Decision for the Guam and CNMI military buildup’s final environmental impact statement, wherein four live-fire training ranges will be built on Tinian: a platoon battle course, an automated combat pistol/military police firearms qualification course, rifle known distance range, and a field firing range.
“Tinian is currently under discussion and it’s really the intensity, how large the artillery or ammos that will be involved in there. It was never envisioned to have anything bigger than 50-mm or whatever that is. But since the shift in the Guam firing range up to Tinian, there’s been talk about moving the scale up on Tinian. That’s going to be a major concern because it’s not going to be the same Tinian once you start bringing in those big guns,” the governor said.
He emphasized that having military training on Tinian “300 days a year, 24/7” will have its negative impacts.
“It’s going to be a totally different Tinian,” Inos said in an interview at the signing of three local laws and one public law yesterday afternoon on Capital Hill.
‘On same page’
The Tinian mayor, in a phone interview last night, said the governor’s statement is “welcome news” that he said will strengthen the resolve to oppose artillery ranges on both Tinian and Pagan.
“I’m very glad we’re all now on the same page. I appreciate very much the governor’s stand,” Dela Cruz said.
While the Tinian mayor initially supported more military activities on Tinian, he had a dramatic change of heart when he visited artillery ranges in Hawaii that were the similar to the ones being proposed for Tinian.
“Like I said before, there is no way the people of Tinian will accept an artillery range or mortar range on the island. That is just too much. And like I said I can’t speak for the people of Pagan but I’m sure they won’t want the same thing on their island,” Dela Cruz said.
The House speaker, who has been drafting a resolution requesting the governor to take a strong stand against the militarization of Pagan, among other things, also welcomed Inos’ statement yesterday.
During a public scoping last year, MARFOPAC said the largest artillery that could be used on Tinian is 155 millimeters, and several kinds of mortars.
“Of course, I’m not going to support any kind of activity like that,” Inos said. “Some live-fire training and so forth, maybe, that’s part of what was envisioned initially and so that’s something that we would support. But to have something bigger, we need to do more study to ensure there is no disruption in civil aeronautics, and so forth. What about the private, commercial aircraft and so forth? Those are the things that we need to look into on Tinian.”
Pagan, he said, is an “uphill battle” at this point.
“It’s a very contentious issue,” Inos added.
The governor said because the military “couldn’t do certain things in Guam” such as the need to use “bigger guns,” they are going to Tinian.
“And then for the things they can’t do on Tinian, they are going to have to do it on Pagan. We’re saying ‘no.’ You do on Tinian what was originally agreed and envisioned and that is some live-fire training exercises,” he said.
The governor added that what is being envisioned for Pagan is “more intense” than the bombings on Farallon de Mendinilla.
“What I understand is that if something were to happen in Pagan, it’s big deal,” he added.
The U.S. military plans to develop live-fire ranges and training areas on Tinian and Pagan, as the U.S. looks to rebalance forces in the Pacific. Military studies have identified a large number of joint training deficiencies in the Western Pacific and these two islands are eyed to address these deficiencies.
The proposal includes three unit-level training alternatives for Tinian and two combined-level training alternatives for Pagan.
Meanwhile, Inos and Calvo’s Hawaii trip comes days after a team from the Marine Forces Pacific led by executive director Craig Whelden out of Honolulu briefed the Inos administration and the Legislature about the changes that the U.S. military has made to the proposed alternatives related to the use of Tinian and Pagan for live-fire training.
Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider said the Inos administration welcomes MARFOPAC’s decision to provide the CNMI with a quarterly update related to the development of an environmental impact statement for the Tinian and Pagan proposals.
MARFOPAC deputy director William S. Febuary and operations officer Tim Roberts, among others, briefed administration and lawmakers last week about the changes made to the proposed alternatives, taking into consideration comments and suggestions from CNMI officials and from scoping meetings as well as further technical work.
Hofschneider added that taking into consideration the CNMI’s concerns is welcome news, referring to issues such as access to different areas on Tinian and Pagan, landfill and economic activities.
In response to lawmakers’ questions last week, Roberts said the goal is to allow civil or commercial aviation in and out of Tinian at the same time the military is conducting live-fire training, among other things.