EIS review extension reshapes timeline for environmental review

»DOD explains their two-month extension

The U.S. Department of Defense believes an extra two months is adequate for a professional environmental consultant to complete and share their findings with the CNMI on the draft environmental impact statement for military training on Tinian and Pagan.

Any more than two months would put fiscal, congressional, and international factors “at risk,” according to the military.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos originally asked for a six-month extension to give the CNMI more time to hire and have consultants review the draft impact statement.

These consultants, who will be paid using funds from the Office of Insular Affairs, have yet to be hired.

In a letter to the Inos yesterday, copies of which were obtained by Saipan Tribune, Marine Forces Pacific executive director Craig Whelden explained the factors behind their decision.

Whelden said it was determined that the Department of Defense could not support a six-month extension to the EIS’ public comment period.

This after considerable review by Defense and its deputy secretary Robert Work, he said.

Pointing to Inos’ reasons for the request—“to hire technical consultants to ‘help with review and preparation of our written comments’”—Whelden said it was determined that an additional 60 days would meet this requirement.

“By granting a 60-day extension, this will provide the consultant 75 days to meet your needs,” he wrote. “[Defense] believes a professional environmental consultant can complete a review of the [draft impact statement] in 30 days and can then use the remaining 45 days to socialize the finding with the CNMI populace,” he said.

Whelden said their planning timeline is based on commitments to international agreements, congressional planning and programming, and U.S. Pacific Command force posture plans.

“These processes are all intertwined and an extension of greater than 60 days pushes the completion of this process into another fiscal year, putting these considerations at risk,” he explained.

Whelden said they are committed to continuing the “ad-hoc” meetings they’ve held with CNMI officials.

“These meetings provide a unique opportunity for real time engagement and are a perfect venue for [the Department of Defense] to continue to listen to the concerns of the CNMI. [The Department of Defense] is confident that between the [National Environmental Act Process] and the ad-hoc meetings, we can continue to identify and consider options that benefit both parties,” he wrote.

The two-month extension now boosts from 60 days to 120 days the comment period for the EIS.

According to a notional timeline provided by Whelden, a final environmental impact statement is targeted for a July 16, 2016, release.

A record of decision, signed by the Secretary of the Department of Navy, is planned for Aug. 16, 2016.

There is no maximum amount of time set by the law to review the EIS.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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