Opposing ends of NEPA process show common struggle for Guam and CNMI


The U.S. Department of Navy released on Saturday a Record of Decision approving the relocation of thousands of U.S. Marines to Guam from Japan, moving forward with plans that the administration of Gov. Eloy S. Inos believes are a scaled-back version of an original project, refined largely by the concerns of the people of Guam.

Administration officials are hopeful that the impact review for U.S. military live-fire projects in the CNMI will be as thorough. Impact review for the Guam buildup project took over five years under the National Environmental Policy Act, and drew a lawsuit and political pushback by public groups concerned with the siting of the ancient Chamorro village of Pagat as a firing range.

Administration officials have also noted that the same attorneys involved with the Guam groups that sued the U.S. Department of Defense in 2010 are the same attorneys reviewing the live-fire project in the CNMI.

For the CNMI live-fire project, this firm—called Dentons US LLC—has called impact documents for the CNMI’s live-fire projects “so inadequate as to preclude meaningful review.

In a statement to Saipan Tribune, the administration said with the release of the Record of Decision, they are pleased to learn that U.S. military officials and planners responsible for the Guam project listened to the people of Guam, and in particular “to the concerns they raised about the size and potential impacts that the buildup activities would have on that island.” 

“DoD appropriately—in our opinion—revised and scaled back what the Department of Defense planned to do on Guam,” the administration said.

“We likewise trust that when the military officials and planners for the CJMT Project on Tinian and Pagan learn of the concerns the Northern Mariana Island citizens and residents have related to that project, they will also adjust and accordingly revise their plans,” the administration said.

For the Guam project, the Navy says their final decision details a “significantly decreased footprint and a significant decrease in the potential strain on Guam’s infrastructure.”

It lowered the number of people relocating from Japan to Guam from 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependents to 5,000 Marines and 1,300 dependents.

Rather than seven years of intense construction boom, the final plans provide 13 years for moderate construction, the Navy says.

Notably, their live-fire range complex acreage is reduced from 5,529 to 3,957. The complex is also no longer sited on public land, as it was in 2010.

No victories

While Guam on Saturday saw the end of years of formal review, the CNMI is near the beginning of this process, having not yet concluded the first round of public comment for the military’s plans.

Leevin Camacho, Guam attorney and activist involved with the Pagat lawsuit, said that by using NEPA process, the Guam community “helped inform the decision making.”

But Camacho said it would be hard to use the word “victory” for this work.

“This is where it turns from the legal advocacy to the social/political,” he said, in an interview with Saipan Tribune.

Guam politicians have said that at the heart of the Guam buildup are jobs through construction projects lined up for the influx of service members from Japan.

Camacho believes that when the buildup does begin, the people should look back to who the decision makers were and hold Defense and Guam politicians accountable for these promised benefits and proposed mitigation plans outlined in their final decision.

NEPA has run its course and a decision has been made but, with 8,000 pages of technical documents, Camacho said “we are still in execution phase.”


Camacho also pointed to “a parallel to what’s going on in to the CNMI,” noting data omissions that the Navy failed to address in both the CNMI and Guam project.

The Department of Navy—after the 2010 lawsuit—issued a decision that they would conduct a “supplemental” environmental impact statement. This review eventually led to an analysis of a broader range of alternatives for the Guam live-firing range. Before this, Pagat was the Navy’s only option.

Camacho noted that the methods the Navy provided in the supplemental review existed before the supplemental review came out.

He was referring to the “probabilistic methodology” cited as a reason for the reconsideration of Pagat as a firing range.

In their Record of Decision, the Navy said they applied a “probabilistic methodology to more precisely model the size of their “surface danger zone” associated with a planned machine gun range.

The Navy said application of this “probabilistic methodology” reduced the size of their overall footprint and enabled them to reevaluate potential locations in Guam, “including locations previously considered but not carried forward for detailed analysis.”

Camacho says, though, that such a methodology and data existed even before the supplemental EIS.

“They just elected not to use that method that time around,” Camacho said.

When asked if the Pagat lawsuit prompted this, Camacho said, “Absolutely.”

“Until the lawsuit, there were no alternatives outside of Pagat,” he said. The Navy has not admitted this, though, electing not to mention the lawsuit in ROD’s summary of alternatives and its review history.

The failure to consider alternatives has been a well-lamented part of the CNMI project also.

Dentons has noted, among other reasons, that the Navy fails to explore “all” reasonable training alternatives in the CNMI project, noting that the use of ranges in Australia and the Philippines should be considered, for example.

Dentons—in their summary findings on “the legal adequacy” of the CNMI EIS—said that the Navy’s failure to consider training alternatives outside the CNMI is “not an isolated instance of non-compliance.”

“The [CNMI Joint Military Project] is the fifth major military training project proposed for the CNMI in recent years,” Dentons said, referring to, among others, the U.S. Air Force’s proposed divert airfield project, the U.S. Navy’s expansive bombing and sonar training projects, which were approved last month, and the Guam buildup EIS, which has previously included live-fire ranges on Tinian as part of its scope.

“Each of the five projects has involved the preparation of an EIS,” Dentons said. “None of the five EIS fully evaluates any alternatives located outside the CNMI. Based on the documents we have reviewed to date, it appears the Navy has consistently singled out the CNMI for inappropriate treatment under NEPA.”

“We find the [CJMT’s] failure to fully evaluate any alternatives located outside the CNMI to be the most egregious of the document’s many shortcomings. This fundamental flaw contaminates the remainder of the [impact statement], rendering the entire document inadequate,” Dentons said.

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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