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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Lawmakers oppose Pagan militarization
CNMI, Guam governors meet with US Pacific Command in Hawaii

House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) and other House members are pre-filing today a joint resolution asking Gov. Eloy S. Inos—who is set to meet with the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii—to “oppose any and all proposed military use of Pagan and oppose any increased military activities in the Northern Islands.” It is set to become the CNMI Legislature’s unified voice against the militarization of Pagan.

Inos left for Hawaii yesterday, a day later than originally scheduled.

The U.S. Pacific Command invited Inos and Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo to Hawaii for a briefing about military plans in the region. Accompanying Inos are press secretary Angel Demapan and counsel Wesley Bogdan.

Lawmakers described the proposed Pagan use as “basically a military war game plan that demands continuous use and occupation of the entire island of Pagan for warfare functional areas.”

They said these are not limited to amphibious warfare, anti-submarine warfare, mini warfare, strike warfare, air warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and naval special warfare, among others.

“The CNMI has legitimate concerns that certain proposed military operations on Pagan will adversely affect the socio-economic and other cultural concerns, including but not limited to geo-tourism, geothermal power generation, and planned resettlement,” the nine-page draft joint resolution partly reads.

The pre-filing also comes days after the lawmakers’ meeting with the Marianas Forces Pacific led by executive director Craig Whelden about changes made to the proposed alternatives related to the use of Tinian and Pagan for live-fire training.

A few days later, lawmakers also met with visiting Federal Aviation Administration officials.

The House of Representatives has tentatively set a Friday session, wherein the joint resolution is expected to be adopted and sent to the CNMI Senate.

This also comes days after the governor said he will not support artillery ranges on Pagan and Tinian for safety reasons, adding that Pagan alone is an “uphill battle.” It was the governor’s strongest statement to date on the military plans for both islands.

Rep. George Camacho (R-Saipan), one of the co-sponsors, said yesterday “there needs to be proper planning and a balance between development and preservation of our valuable resources.”

“Pagan and all the Northern Islands are the few resources that we have for our people. It is in the best interest that we protect those islands for our children and people,” he told Saipan Tribune.

Once adopted by the CNMI Legislature, copies of the joint resolution will be transmitted to the offices of President Barack Obama, the CNMI governor, members of the U.S. Congress including Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), and the mayors of Rota, Tinian and Aguigan, Saipan, and the islands north of Saipan.

Rep. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan), also a co-sponsor and chairman of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation, said yesterday he’s been opposed to the militarization of Pagan since the onset.

“I opposed it back then and I still oppose it today for safety and environmental concerns, among other things,” Tebuteb said.

National defense

The speaker and co-sponsors said in the draft resolution that the CNMI already contributes to the national defense by being a valuable strategic military defense asset in the Pacific region and by leasing its scarce real property, including but not limited to, over two-thirds of Tinian, valued real property in Tanapag, and Farallon de Medinilla for military training, maneuvers and live-fire bombings.

Given the significant land, ocean, and airspace that the military has already taken into custody and control for national defense, the 18th CNMI Legislature “opposes the military’s proposed Pagan plan for combined-unit live fire trainings and maneuvers.”

Lawmakers said the wholesale militarization proposed for Pagan will permanently enjoin any meaningful opportunity for resettlement and sustainable community-building redevelopment.

They said Pagan’s planned militarization is incompatible with the Pagan Island Eco-Tourism Master Plan in the Marianas Visitors Authority’s five-year master plan, and the Northern Marianas College’s agricultural master plan.

The House Natural Resources Committee, meanwhile, is recommending passage of a bill that would help pave the way for Pagan homesteading.

Geothermal, pozzolan

Lawmakers said Pagan’s proposed military use would adversely affect the 50- to 120-megawatt geothermal reservoir that exists on Pagan “which could support the near-term development and resettlement” of the island.

They said geothermal energy from Pagan could be transported to Saipan via submarine cable. They said as a hydrogen economy develops, the CNMI could also become an energy exporter that would no longer be dependent on expensive imported fossil fuels.

House members added that the proposed military use of Pagan would threaten any efforts to use the pozzolan deposits on Pagan, estimated at 200 million metric tons.

‘Untold destruction’

Lawmakers said Pagan’s militarization will result in untold destruction, contamination, pollution, and harm to the health and wellbeing of the people in the Marianas archipelago.

They said these include mass destruction of cultural resources, critical habitats, and life webs in the Marianas chain “which can never be undone.”

They also spoke of local, regional, national, and international advocates that have publicly rallied against the “impending occupation, destruction and contamination of Pagan by military live firings and training activities.” These include Save Pagan Island, Sierra Club, Roots Action and Care2 Make a Difference.

24 cents per sqm of FDM

A 1971 Use and Occupancy Agreement was executed by the U.S. and Trust Territory governments for annual rent of $20,600.

This has provided the U.S. military, up until the present time, unimpeded access, occupancy and unrestricted use of 83,000 square meters of FDM for live firing and bombing.

Lawmakers said this amounts to about “24 cents per square meter.”

They said over 40 years later, scarce CNMI land is once again being eyed for manned and unmanned military live firing, bombing and related military training and maneuvers by land, sea and air that extends far beyond FDM.

3 times the size of California

The speaker and co-sponsors also said the proposed Pagan military roadmap covers not just the entire island of Pagan but also its coastlines and surrounding waters and exclusive airspace, including airspace restrictions extending to Anatahan, Sarigan and as far up north as Pajaros.

The lawmakers said the proposed Department of Defense Mariana Island Range Complex is equivalent to three times the size of the state of California and retains 70,000 nautical miles of airspace for training, equivalent to the size of the state of Washington.

They said when the Record of Decision on the public scoping held in 2013 for the Mariana Islands Training and Testing environmental impact statement is finalized and implemented, the MITT will “nearly double” the ocean space that has been already taken and controlled by the military—from 501,873 nautical miles to 984,469 square nautical miles.

This makes the occupation and use by the military training range in the Mariana archipelago equal to the combined sizes of the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Montana and New Mexico, they said.

FDM

The lawmakers said under the MIRC/MITT strategic proposal, the Department of Defense would engage in higher frequency military trainings involving a greater tonnage of live fire bombardment over FDM, a greater tonnage of underwater mines detonated, and the use of sonar weaponry. Collectively, these may result in the permanent hearing loss of up to 59 whales and dolphins per year, they said.

They said it will also accelerate erosion and the sedimentation of FDM’s surrounding reef causing physical damage to marine life added by underwater demolition. It will significantly increase contamination of surrounding waters from both exploded bomb residue and unexplored ordinance, lawmakers said.

“The CNMI Legislature, for the sake of not just the Northern Islands but also the longterm welfare of the entire CNMI, hereby respectfully requests that the Honorable Governor Eloy S. Inos take all necessary measures to oppose the proposed military exercises on Pagan and also oppose the increased military exercises within the Northern Islands,” lawmakers said.

Taking too much from CNMI

Besides the military, environmental activities have also taken away the CNMI’s control of the Northern Islands, they said. They cited the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, which gave the federal government control over an estimated 100,000 square miles of the entire Northern Marianas, or about a third of the CNMI.

“Taking into account the federally owned and controlled submerged lands, the military-used and federally leased lands, and all environmental lands that are set aside as preserves, the Commonwealth actually controls only a fraction of the area of the CNMI,” the lawmakers said.

Besides the Pagan militarization, lawmakers said the CNMI Legislature is also concerned with the current CNMI Joint Military Training plan, which proposes to place an artillery range on Tinian “that is vehemently opposed by the people of Tinian.”

“Governor Eloy Inos must ensure that our islands, especially, Pagan, are here for future generations by opposing the militarization of Pagan and the increased militarization of the Northern Islands so as to preserve them for social and economic benefit of the people of the CNMI,” the lawmakers said.

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