ON TINIAN HISTORICAL SITES

Report: Military should avoid live-fire training

The Department of the Navy has seemingly ignored its own studies in its latest plans to build large-scale firing ranges on Tinian, the National Park Service said in a breakdown of the military’s live-fire training project on Tinian this month.

The latest military plans appear to backtrack and conflict on earlier approved historical protection and mitigation zones that the Navy set forth in a smaller scale project some five years ago, according to the 88-page report, which was tasked by the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation last October after they saw that the latest military studies left many “unresolved issues.”

The impacts in question involves the Ushi Point, North Field, Landing Beaches (North Field) National Historic Landmark District on Tinian, areas historically significant for their role in World War II and as an area with pre-contact Chamorro sites.

The Park Service has found that the Navy’s “CNMI Joint Military Training” project “would significantly diminish the integrity and directly adversely affect” this area and “damage the landmark and would alter the landmark in ways not consistent with” federal standards for the treatment of historic properties.

“These impacts are rooted in the proposed design, location, and frequency of the training and related construction, the Park Service said, adding that the defining features of the landmark district would “be damaged and altered in ways that threaten the landmarks ability to convey its physically character, and therefore to be interpreted and understood by the public.

These historical features “are finite and irreplaceable,” said the Park Service. “Should these historic resources be destroyed, the landscape would no longer exist or could no longer convey its significance.”

The Park Service report is lucid in the description of the historical integrity of the Tinian landmark district, which falls under military leased land, and the report appears to put no faith in military proposals to “relocate” some of these sites.

The Tinian landmark area has been called a “playground” for historians.

“I am quite satisfied with the report,” local historian Don Farrell told Saipan Tribune yesterday. “I am also confident that this will help both local and military planners understand the value of the Tinian North Field National Historic Landmark.

“It is one of a kind in the world,” Farrell said.

Past promises

The Navy appears to have ignored its earlier assurances to enhance the historical district that were “stipulated” in a 2011 programmatic agreement between Guam, the CNMI, and the Department of Defense for earlier environmental impact studies for the “Guam Buildup” project.

The agreement states that: “DOD will coordinate with the NPS to update the Tinian NHL historic district, based on the results of” the Navy-sponsored historical studies.

“This has not been addressed,” the Park Service said in its report,

The Navy has also sponsored a “cultural landscape reported” on Tinian that was completed in May 2010 to document the historical and cultural resources on the military leased area on Tinian.

That report, the Park Service notes, identifies zones for “resource protection” and military “activity mitigation,” among others, to “strike a balance between” stewardship and military training.

The Park Service argues that given the geographic overlap between areas of potential effect in the earlier military approved project [the Marianas Islands Range Complex study] and the live-fire training ranges in question, the military’s live-fire alternatives “should have been informed by the findings and recommendations” the earlier Navy cultural report and the resource protection “adopted” by the Navy in its earlier project.

“This clearly did not occur in a meaningful way,” the Park Service said.

“Not only are the training constraint area[s]” and report recommendations “seemingly ignored by the CJMT proposed undertaking, some of the most significant impacts to historic and cultural resources would occur in training constraint areas, the Interpretation Zone, and/or would result from actions that go against” the Navy’s own findings.

One example, the Park Service notes, is the high impact hazardous area that were given “limited training” designations in the earlier Navy training project.

“There are other examples in the proposed [live fire project where the cultural report findings] are seemingly ignored and the training constraint areas defined in the [earlier Navy project] non-existent,” the Park Service said.

“It is unclear why this is so,” the Park Service said, since the Navy is responsible for minimizing harm to the landmark district to the “maximum extent possible” and both the cultural report and training restraint areas were developed to protect the landmark district and other historical sites on Tinian.

Access

The Park Service also argues that the Navy has not adequately addressed the impact that intermittent training will have on the access to the historical landmark.

The military wants to use Tinian for 20 weeks of live-fire training and additional 22 weeks of non-live activity, which both involve munitions storage, danger zones, construction, and airspace and seaspace restrictions.

“While it is true there are National Historic Landmarks located on active military installations that are not readily accessible, the point here is irrelevant.”

“What is being assessed here is a change from nearly unlimited access to restricted access…a profound effect on how the landmark is interpreted and experienced,” the Park Service said, noting that visits and recreational and cultural activities would be curtailed.

“While the EIS identifies many of the significant impacts from restricted access that will affect the NHLD visitation, cultural practices and interpretation, none of the action alternatives is designed to avoid or minimize these adverse effects.

“This is true for most every aspect of the undertaking as it relates to cultural resources,” the Park Service said.

‘Layered historical landscape’

The report largely defends the “layered historical landscape” that held some of the most important events in World War II and spells out a total of nine recommendations the military should heed to preserve the integrity of the landmark district, which include, among others, proposals to “relocate or significantly reduce” a grenade and mortar ranges and its high hazard impact area that happens to overlap with the landmark district boundary.

The Park Service also asks that the military eliminate or modify the amphibious assault landing ramps on the historical Tinian World War II landing beaches, among other recommendations

Tinian was a major sugar production center and a vital military interest for the Japanese empire in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Tinian was assaulted by the U.S. in 1944, marking America’s third stage drive for the Mariana Islands that began with invasions of Saipan and the capture of Guam.

The Park Service notes that these engagement “broke Japan’s inner line of defense in the Pacific, creating staging areas for aerial bombing raids on the Japanese mainland and led to Tinian serving as the launching point of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to close the war.

When North Field was completed during the war, an airfield that housed bombers that led to obliteration of Japanese cities and thousands of civilian deaths, it was the largest airfield in the world, the Park Service notes.

“The dropping of the two bombs marked a major juncture in the war and in world history, contributing to the Japanese surrender and heralding the start of the nuclear age.”

The Park Service believes that many marks of the battle for Tinian and the construction and use of the airbase there “survive” and remain “relatively unaltered.”

The Park Service describes the historical features on the northern part of Tinian, where the military holds a lease that extends to 2033, as for the most part obscured by vegetation.

The Hagoi wetland, the largest wetland on Tinian that supports populations of the endangered Marianas common moorhen, is also historically significant as the largest permanent freshwater source on the island.

This area also contains archaeological sites tied to “pre-contact Chamorro use, Japanese colonial settlement, and World War II military use have been recorded there and in many nearby areas.”

The report also notes that numerous pre-contact Chamorro sites exist within the landmark and its surround areas.

The notable sites that may be affected by the military undertaking include “a significant early settlement site on the terrace above Unai Chulu,” and a “latte period site Unai Babui.” Unai Chulu and Unai Babui are U.S. military landing beaches during World War II.

While they may not be directly linked to World War II, the Park Service notes, they play a part in the landmark’s historical setting as points of reference for interpreting the events and “legacies of the war years” among the larger backdrop of historical and environmental change to the Marianas from ancient times to present.

“Surviving in a relatively undisturbed setting,” the Park Service said, “the varied resources…also speak to the dramatic and lasting impacts of colonialism and war on the Northern Mariana Islands and their inhabitants.”

The Park Service finds that the “integrity” of the landmark is preserved by the absence of significant non-historic development.

On this ancient site where the Navy wants to construct a surface radar tower, Park Service disagree with the Navy’s assessment of the impact.

“It does not make sense that a 25’5” tall tower constructed within the Latte site would be evaluated as having an indirect effect on that resources,” the Park Service said, rather the proposed tower and its barbed wire fence would have a profound adverse affect on the latte site.

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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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