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Environmental considerations to be addressed

By Stefan Sebastian

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 31, 2008) – Alternative energy and green building practices were some of the issues on the agenda Wednesday in the second round of talks this week with local officials and the Joint Guam Program Office as they begin evaluating the environmental impact of a pending military buildup in the region.

Established by the Department of Defense to address military plans on Guam, the JGPO is now gearing up for the relocation of an estimated 8,000 U.S. service personnel and their 9,000 family members from Okinawa, Japan, to the island. The move will require the construction of port infrastructure for naval ships and scores of new projects to support military operations and personnel, according to a JGPO report on the plan.

The pending buildup could give Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) a major economic boost, yet with that comes a host of environmental concerns that Lisa Fiedler, JGPO's environmental director, says officials in the conference sought to address with a review of a draft environment impact statement.

"We're trying to do things in an environmentally friendly way," Fiedler said, adding the talks have touched on topics like energy conservation and "green" building techniques. Alternative energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal power also played a significant role in the day's early discussions, she said, as did the use of "sustainable" design elements for construction projects, such as rain catchments that curb erosion and run-off.

A key element for JGPO's plans as the buildup begins is to ensure they might also benefit the local community, Fiedler said. For example, she noted road-building projects could improve civic transportation systems.

"What we're trying to do is also look at what the local issues, concerns and needs are to see if there's a way we can build things that supports the community," she said. "We try to do things that will have direct benefits to the community as well as DOD. If there's a way we can help the economy through jobs or something else, we certainly want to do that."

Tinian and Pagag might serve as the staging ground for some military training once the buildup happens but, according to John Joyner, director of CNMI Coastal Resources Management and an organizer for the conference, the Commonwealth is likely to see many more environmental and societal impacts for which it must prepare.

"It will affect our entire way of life because we're looking at an influx in a short period of time of a large number of people and looking at the construction of many quasi-permanent facilities," Joyner said. "We're looking at impacts on coral reefs and erosion, water quality, wastewater, solid waste. These impact our islands and it's the entire CNMI, not just Saipan."

As a further example, Joyner noted the presence of more military personnel could prompt a need for added police department and hospital resources. However, local environmental regulators are already prepared for the buildup.

"We have anticipated this event," he said.

Moreover, Joyner added that the CNMI has managed to become a key voice in the effort to work with Defense Department officials ahead of the buildup and has developed a strong relationship with the military.

"This indicates a transformation in the way the Department of Defense operates with non-military communities," Joyner said. "In this instance, they are inviting nonmilitary people to work with them in formulating plans and implementing plans. It's a partnering."

On Tuesday, the talks focused on the real estate agreements, master planning documents and developments at local ports necessary for the military relocation to begin. Today, JGPO staff and local officials will visit Tinian.

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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