Units of measurement


This past week, the people of the CNMI have been given a chance to voice their thoughts, opinion and emotions as they pertain to the activities proposed by the CNMI Joint Military Training. The CJMT is a 1,388-page long document, with appendices A through S. In addition to the EIS and its appendices, the Department of the Navy has a 94-page requirements and siting study that was published in 2013. All in all, this amounts to over 5,000 pages.

As daunting as this may sound, it is merely just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The CJMT builds off of a whole slew of military alphabet-soup documents (i.e., the MIRC, the MITT, etc.). Each plan contains its own set of appendices and requirement and siting study, adding more and more pages. As you combine all of these documents to put together the puzzle that is the US military’s plan for our islands, you end up with thousands upon thousands of pieces.

In the interest of being fair, honest and transparent, the U.S. military has granted a public comment period. The public comment period is open from April 3, 2015, through June 3, 2015. During this public comment period, three public hearings have been scheduled: two on Saipan and one on Tinian. Each public hearing consists of a two-hour blocks to provide verbal comments; a three-minute time limit is given to each speaker. Accounting for time between speakers, breaks and technical difficulties that may happen, we can conservatively estimate that 15-20 minutes might not go toward actual commenting.

Time for some simple math: three public hearings x (2 hours – 15 minutes) = 315 minutes available for verbal comments. 315 minutes sets us up for some interesting math. First we can divide this number by the 3 minutes allocated to each speaker and you get 105 speakers. The CNMI has a population of 53,883 people. 105 is less than ½ of 1 percent of our entire population. Granted, this number includes infants and the bedridden, but it is still an impossibly tiny fraction of our voices—a whisper of a whisper.

Next, let us take those 315 minutes and see how much time that gives us per page of the CJMT EIS (and we won’t include the MIRC or the MITT or any reference material). 5,000/315 = 15.87, or less than 16 pages per minute of verbal comment. That means each speaker would be expected to cover 48 pages of EIS during their comment.

But let’s all be honest with each other. These are the units of measurement that matter. We know that it’s not about the details littered throughout the pages. It’s not about finding the error on page F-235, section 7.10.12. The number of public hearings and time we’ve been given to comment and speak are not the important units of measurement.

On the night of the first public hearing for the CJMT, I signed up to give my public comment. During my allotted three-minutes I chose to comment on the manner in which the U.S. military conducted their marine resource surveys and said that these surveys were done “behind our backs.” For context, let’s set the stage: In 2013 a team of contractors was hired to collect information on the reefs that are being considered for training use. The military applied for and received the appropriate permits from the local Division of Fish & Wildlife. They were open about their intent when applying for the permits. The contractors, made up of scientists based out of Florida, Fiji, Hawaii, American Samoa and Guam, came in quietly and conducted their work on Tinian. They went up to Pagan and conducted their work quietly. No harm, no foul.

Clearly, this is not a point of controversy. Local officials knew that military contractors would be on island. But I would like to introduce a unit of measurement that I think is the most useful and insightful for us—it is called the “bare minimum.” This is a unit of measurement that matters.

In an interview with the media following the first public hearing, Marine Corps Forces Pacific executive director Craig B. Whelden stated the he wanted to set the record straight. He stated that “oftentimes we have CNMI people participating with us on the surveys.” The Marianas Variety goes on to report that, “He [Whelden] said they sent out letters to the mayors, to the governor, and governmental officials on each and every survey they conducted over the last two years.” Again, this is true (http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/56680-marines-to-start-field-surveys-on-tinian-pagan-this-month). This is, however, is something that I feel can be measured simply with one term: the bare minimum.

What bothers me, and I can only imagine doesn’t sit well with a lot of people in the CNMI, is why you would you only strive for the bare minimum? Why not hold a public meeting to discuss the work being done at the time it was being conducted? Why didn’t you make this an open process with stakeholder engagement? Why were local students given an opportunity to be involved so they can learn and expand their knowledge about their own natural resources? Why the aversion to giving as much time as possible to working with the people of the CNMI?

My list of questions can go on and on, but that isn’t an important measure of what’s wrong. In Pacific Island culture it is often thought that it is not what one says that matters, but more importantly, it’s what one doesn’t say that matters—actions. In a place where actions count for so much, it feels as though you’re settling for the bare minimum. Instead of doing the most, you’re saying the least. Is this what you’re willing to accept as a good job? Is that how you measure the worth of our islands and its people? With the bare minimum?

Steven Johnson
Chalan Kiya, Saipan

Steven Johnson

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