A high-ranking official of the U.S Department of Defense met with lawmakers on Capital Hill yesterday to discuss proposed military activities on the CNMI particularly on Tinian and Pagan.
Robert M. Scher, DoD assistant secretary for strategy, plans, and capabilities, said his primary purpose is to hold dialogues with the lawmakers.
The official also said the talks on proposed military activities and land leases on Tinian and Pagan remain at an “early stage.”
“We need these kinds of engagements. We are still at an early stage in the talks and we have to get down to the details,” Scher said, while addressing questions from lawmakers.
He assured lawmakers that he agreed to meet to further “listen.”
One of the questions thrown at Scher was the actual impact of live-fire exercises on Tinian, considering its close proximity to Saipan.
House Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said Saipan has been relying on tourism for many years and he is wondering if artillery fire will not affect tourists.
“Is there a way to prove that live-fire noise will not affect those tourist visiting Saipan?” Deleon Guerrero said.
He also asked if tourism activities can co-exist with the proposed military activities.
According to Scher, his job is to ensure that this is the case.
“I firmly believe that the activities and tourism can co-exist,” Scher said, adding that there are many places in the U.S. where tourism and militarization have co-existed.
He did not disclose further details, saying only that the military is still figuring out how to best use the land but with minimal impacts on the community and environment.
Scher said he recognizes the “valid concerns” and said these regular dialogues are the best way to find out more.
For Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), the military should understand that what the community wants is better understanding of the noise, and visual impacts of the planned military activities.
“How do you address these concerns?” Demapan said.
Sen. Arnold Palacios (R-Saipan) urged Scher and other military officials to “sit down” with the community members particularly of the Northern Islands that Pagan is part of.
“The draft impact statement says 16 weeks of military activities. But will this be the same case 10 years from now?” Palacios said.
For Rep. Edwin P. Aldan (Ind-Tinian) the military should be very clear on what public benefits the militarization will bring to Tinian as well as the long-term impacts of bombing on Pagan.
“I hope you will consider what the impact will be for Pagan,” Aldan said.
Scher stressed that talks are still on the early stages, but gave his commitment that regular consultations will continue to be held.