Erosion impact studies remain hard to find
U.S. Navy ordnance use on Farallon de Medinilla would increase some 450 percent per year in either action alternative laid out in the Mariana Islands Training and Testing draft environmental impact statement, for which a final version is due in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, it’s unclear how or if federally requested studies on erosion impact for current and increased bombings activity will be addressed.
Recently, satellite imagery and oblique photographs have shown significant changes to the morphology of Farallon de Medinilla, or FDM, a routine-bombing area leased to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Citing satellite imagery and oblique photographs, the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality said there appears to be mass wasting along FDM’s east cliff lines; mass wasting on its land bridge on its eastern side, and imagery shows a recent cave collapse on its southern end.
Erosion or sediment runoff is one of the most serious stressors affecting coral reefs in the Mariana Islands. In reference to this, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in their 2013 comments on the Marianas Islands Training and Testing, or MITT, noted a concern for the “potential for erosion by current activities at [FDM] as well as the increased training of the proposed alternative.”
The EPA said a 2008 range assessment of the islands “did not assess the fate and transport of sediment, including munitions constituents,” from FDM.
The agency requested that impacts of erosion on near shore habitats, coral reefs maps, and mitigation measures, among others, be discussed in the final impact statement.
Right now, the U.S. Navy proposes to deploy on FDM 168,097 or 168, 928 total ordnance per year for action alternatives 1 and 2, respectively.
For explosive bombs alone, it would almost triple in amount—jumping from 2,150 per year to a proposed 6,242 bombs per year in alternative one, and 6,821 bombs per year in alternative two, according to the draft impact statement.
Both alternatives also introduce substantial amounts of explosive rockets and small- and medium-caliber gunnery to the island where there was none before.
When sought for an update on their requested studies, EPA told Saipan Tribune last week that the military has not yet released the final impact study and has not contacted EPA with any additional information regarding their comment.
“…Therefore, we do not know if [or] how they will respond to our comment,” said EPA public affairs officer Dean Higuchi.
“We are not aware of any water quality reports for the waters around FDM,” he also said.
When sought for studies on FDM sediment transport water quality, BECQ also indicated they did not have this information. Instead, they shared their 2013 comments on the MITT, which described as “deficient” the Navy’s studies on erosion impact.
In their comments, the bureau examined military claims that “weathering soil and coastal formations on FDM has resulted from typhoons,” as well as military claims that monthly surveys show “that increased erosion is the result of natural causes, storm, and wave erosion.”
The bureau requested that more information be shared to see if mass wasting was actually caused by typhoon damage.
For the Navy’s part, a 2012 study found that “although minor ecological impacts, that could be attributed to military training” in the previous 10 years were detected, “no significant or substantial impacts to the physical or biological environment” were found in the near-shore environment of FDM.
“The restricted access to FDM has resulted in a de-facto preserve effect,” the Navy study said. “The marine natural resources at FDM are comparable to or superior to those of any of the other islands within the Mariana Archipelago. There was strong evidence during the 2012 survey that FDM has become subject to commercial spear fishing. This has resulted in changes to the estimated total numbers of some key fishery target species and changes in the behavior of those species towards divers. An infestation of coral barnacles was observed in 2012, but this is not related to [military] training activities.’
“The greatest threat to FDM’s marine resources is overfishing,” the study said.