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Possible buildup would bring few jobs, benefits

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 15, 2010) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the Tinian Chamber of Commerce has formally expressed its support to the military investment on Tinian in connection with the massive troop buildup in the Marianas, but it has pointed out 10 areas of concerns, including limited economic impact, only a few local jobs to be generated, and periodic limited access to beach sites, other tourism related sites, and cattle grazing land.

In a 12-page position paper and official comments on the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Guam and CNMI military relocation, the Chamber said its comments are meant to "constructively point out unintentional consequences caused by the military's proposed action" on the draft EIS.

Feb. 17 is the deadline for submitting comments on the draft EIS.

The Chamber, which has over 50 active members on Tinian, also offered "solutions" to meet the expectations of businesses and residents on the island.

Phillip Mendiola-Long, president of the Tinian Chamber of Commerce, said Tinian has endured over 30 years of pent up expectations for the military's use and development of the 18,000 acres of leased land on Tinian.

Some two-thirds of the lands on Tinian are leased by the U.S. military, and battalion level non-live fire training areas already exist and are used on these leased parcels.

Because Guam cannot accommodate all training for the relocating Marines from Okinawa, Japan, the U.S. military looks at Tinian to provide opportunities for training groups of 200 Marines or larger due to greater land availability.

The proposed actions on Tinian include firing ranges for rifle known distance, automated combat pistol, platoon battle course, field firing, and airspace use.

In a Feb. 12 position paper and comments on the draft EIS, the Chamber said it disagrees with the determination of "less than significant" for impacts to the roads and harbors as a result of the proposed action on Tinian.

The Chamber said there are no studies or compaction tests offered to determine if in fact the roads built in 1944 can withstand the additional and heavier loads required for equipment used in the range.

The business group added that the draft EIS failed to identify which specific Tinian roads would be accessed or used when moving personnel and equipment from the airport or the harbor.

It also said there's no real live fire tests offered to measure noise impact, even as the draft EIS said there is no noise impact associated with the proposed action on Tinian.

The Chamber said the draft EIS omitted significant recreational resources that will be impacted.

They include Unai Dankulu/Long Beach which consists of over 10 beaches spread over a distance of 1.5 kilometers, and Unai Masalok which consists of three beaches spread over a distance of 0.5 kilometers.

"Access would be impeded, recreational opportunities would be reduced, conflicts would be created and physical deterioration would occur. Unai Dankulo is the longest beach on Tinian and is a major tourist and resident recreational spot," the business group said.

Since the draft EIS identifies additional significant impact on Tinian due to the introduction of hazardous materials and waste, it would seem appropriate that the draft EIS offer as a mitigation measure the hazardous materials cleanup of the Tinian mortar range, it added.

Under the draft EIS, military training activity would be scheduled and notice provided in newspapers and via public service announcements on radio and television at least a week prior to any training event.

But the Chamber said a one-week notice window is not enough time for tourists and residents to address their scheduling of activities for use of the North Field areas.

The Chamber also said that the draft EIS failed to identify what range training area policies are envisioned for potential civilian access and use of the historical and recreational areas located in the Range Training Area (RTA).

Liberty for training Marines is currently not guaranteed for regular training exercises under the current description of the proposed action.

Liberty may be available to the advanced teams before and after training exercises, though these advanced teams would be much smaller and thus have a lesser economic impact.

The draft EIS said to enhance economic benefits and compensate for economic costs for local businesses, the Marine Corps would consider granting trainees some liberty at the end of every training mission so that they might spend money in local establishments and interact with local residents.

The Chamber recommends that the draft EIS implement liberty time within the proposed training schedule and measure economic impact of allowing 200 to 400 military personnel to have liberty in downtown Tinian.

The business group also recommends mitigation for the loss of Tinian economic tourism activity by requiring the U.S. military to pay for the development of a small museum dedicated to Tinian history.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Tinian Mayor Ramon M. Dela Cruz jointly asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to help build a museum or visitor's center that will depict Tinian's role in World War II, even as a "Manhattan Project National Historical Park" system is being created.

Tinian was the staging area for the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war.

The U.S. military would end the grazing rights to build the proposed ranges on Tinian, causing significant adverse economic impact. There are 35 grazing permits to be affected by this.

The Chamber said this is unfair and unacceptable, and recommends that the military offer help in grazing relocation efforts.

The draft EIS also said there is a "possibility" that 12 to 15 Tinian residents could be employed as security guards, grounds keeping crew, and sanitation workers to support the proposed action, a "less than significant impact."

"One must admit that the proposed military action and the possible environmental consequences is already a 'hard sell' to the people of Tinian, yet not enough thought or concern was given to the people of Tinian in this DEIS," said the Chamber.

It added that that the draft EIS does not identify high-paying jobs such as range management positions.

The US$15- to US$20-billion military buildup in Guam and Tinian involves the relocation of some 8,000 Marines to Guam, and this still excludes thousands of family members and workers needed.

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