High-caliber live fire on Tinian also off the table
Military training activities on Pagan and high-caliber live fire training on Tinian are now off the table under the amended proposal to the 2015 Commonwealth Joint Military Training Draft Environmental Impact Statement recently submitted by the U.S. Department of Defense to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres
Also eliminated under the new amended proposal to the 2015 CJMT DEIS are the construction of landing ramps in Chulu Beach, a High Hazard Impact Area for the use of artillery and aviation delivered munitions, an extensive range footprint, extensive fencing, and Special Use airspace.
The new notional proposal also contemplates similar training activities that are already currently conducted on the island of Tinian, but with an eye toward training for the future that is significantly less impactful and harmful to the environment and the way of life for the people of Tinian than the 2015 proposal.
The amended proposal follows a series of meetings among Torres, DoD, the Tinian leadership, Northern Islands Mayor Vicente Santos, and key stakeholders in the community. Torres himself is pleased to inform people of the CNMI that the concerns of the community have been heard and addressed.
A total of 27,000 comments were submitted as part of the National Environmental Policy Act process, where people of the CNMI, most especially the residents of Tinian and Pagan, were clear in their opposition to activities that required a High Hazard Impact Area, the destruction of Chulu Beach, Special Use airspace restrictions, and other impacts on the people of the CNMI, its culture, environment, and economy.
Torres extends his appreciation to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Marine Forces Pacific and Joint Region Marianas for their partnership.
“I thank INDOPACOM Commander Adm. John Aquilino, Mobilization Assistant to the Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Hashimoto, Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson, and their team for their partnership,” said Torres. “The amended proposal is drastically different in content and nature than the proposal submitted in 2015, achieving a closer balance to the type of development we see in the Commonwealth, and is more aligned with the intents of our founding fathers in their work toward crafting our Covenant. Thank you again for all the work put into ensuring the voices of the CNMI are a part of this process and for taking the conversations of the Technical Working Group to heart in fostering a real partnership for us all.”
Tinian Mayor Edwin P. Aldan said the amended proposal is a significant step in the right direction for the people of Tinian who will be most impacted by these training activities.
“The extensive reduction in range footprint will allow continued access and co-use of the Military Leased Area, which will allow our cattle ranchers and our cattle industry to grow,” he said. “The exclusion of artillery and aviation delivered munitions and High Hazard Impact activities means no more bombs and howitzers type of weapons. Because these activities are removed, there is no longer a need to restrict airspace and allows for a greater public access to historical sites and beaches within the MLA, which is critical to our tourism industry and our economy. On behalf of the Tinian Leadership and the people of Tinian, I want to thank Governor Torres and Maj. Gen. Mark Hashimoto for their leadership on this matter. This is a big win not only for the people of the Tinian but for all of the CNMI.”
Last week, the CNMI-DoD Technical Working Group reconvened in a three-day series of meetings to discuss the revised training concept. The meeting outcome yielded consensus to continuing the dialogue and working toward addressing mutual interests and concerns. The Technical Working Group is composed of subject matter experts from departments and agencies across the central and municipal government and DoD counterparts from U.S. Marine Forces, Pacific, Joint Region Marianas, and the Pentagon.
Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) extends his appreciation to the Technical Working Group for their efforts in ensuring the CNMI’s red lines are addressed.
“I commend the efforts of the Technical Working Group for all their hard work and dedication. The revised training concept presented is significantly different from the 2015 proposal,” said Hofschneider. “I appreciate the commitment and transparency of the DoD team. This revised training concept recognizes the concerns of the community and speaks volume of their commitment to our partnership. I also commend the Torres administration for affording the people of Tinian through their leadership to be active participants and decision-makers in this process. We are excited with this collaborative approach and I look forward to our continued dialogue with our DoD partners.”
With a resounding no to bombing Pagan by members of the community throughout the CNMI, Santos is content that Pagan is now off the table.
“I am pleased that Pagan is completely removed from the proposal. Over the last few years, Pagan has been the choice of vacation destination for CNMI residents and I look forward to the continued efforts toward developing the island for rest and recreation and for the eventual resettlement of our Pagan residents,” Santos said. “I want to thank DoD for respecting the wishes of the people and to Gov. Torres for ensuring my full participation to jointly represent the residents of the Northern Islands on this critical matter.”
During the inaugural meeting of the Technical Working Group and through subsequent meetings, Torres asked that the CNMI participants hold an open mind to this engagement and to be forthcoming on the concerns the CNMI has for the proposed activities on our islands. He also asked the DoD partners for openness and understanding that their counterparts in the CNMI have devoted this part of their lives to trying to do what is right for these islands and its people.
“I would like to thank all members of the CNMI [Technical Working Group] for their dedication and participations in these critical engagements and for their vigilance in the protection of our culture, environment, resources, and our way of life,” said Torres. “We all have a role in this development, and we all, DoD and CNMI alike, are benefited from a plan that supports our nation’s security while maintaining [devotion] to the sustainability and protection of our islands. Being American also means we have responsibilities along with rights. Let’s continue the good work that is being done and build on this partnership. But also remember what got us here today—honesty about the issues, openness to discussion, and persistence to doing what is right for the people of Tinian, our Commonwealth and our nation.”
Hashimoto, who represented U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, stated, “Our guiding principle during these interactions was to show a deep respect for the land, people, and culture of the CNMI. To keep and strengthen trust, we must continue to do the right things, for the right reasons. The people of the CNMI spoke, and the Department of Defense listened.”
Hashimoto further commended the skill and professionalism of CNMI agency representatives. “We could not have asked for a better group of partners as we seek to strike the right balance among our four imperatives—protecting natural and cultural resources; lessening and mitigating training impacts; improving economic opportunity; and advancing national security interests,” he said.
Hashimoto closed on a note of optimism. “I believe our interaction should inspire others and serve as a model for how the Department of Defense engages with local communities. I believe these favorable conditions will carry us into future discussions where there is only one approach—to move forward, together.”
Throughout the course of the past seven years engaging with DoD senior leaders, Torres successfully forged a strong partnership with the Department of Defense. With the interest of the people at the forefront of his agenda, he makes certain that the CNMI has a seat at the table in all engagements.
In line with the governor’s commitment to build an enduring partnership with DoD, dialogues with DoD partners will continue to further develop a training proposal that balances the concerns and needs of the people of Tinian, the whole CNMI, and emerging national security requirements. (PR/Saipan Tribune)