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Area includes 502,000 square miles of water

By Gemma Q. Casas SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, June 15, 2010) - The U.S. military studied a total of 501,873 square nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean’s surface, extending from the international waters south of Guam to the Northern Marianas’ east and northern parts up to the middle of the Philippine Sea to the west as part of the planned military buildup project in the Marianas which is designed to provide extensive maritime, land and aerial drills for its troops and U.S. allied forces.

According to the U.S. Department of Navy’s Mariana Islands Range Complex, or MIRC, the Final Environmental Impact Statement/ Overseas Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS/OEIS, filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of the requirements in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act the Record of Decision for the planned military buildup may soon be signed.

The military said the signing of the Record of Decision signals the start of the planned buildup that calls for the relocation of some 8,000 U.S. troops from Okinawa, Japan to Guam beginning in 2014.

Written comments regarding the EIS/OEIS must be submitted to the Navy on or before July 6 to become part of the official record, according to Larry M. Foster of the Navy.

The MIRC EIS/OEIS, which comes in three thick volumes, states that the study area is located in the Western Pacific Region and consists of three primary components: ocean surface and undersea areas, special use airspace and training land areas.

"The ocean surface and undersea areas extend from the international waters south of Guam to north of Pagan, and from the Pacific Ocean east of the Mariana Islands to the middle of the Philippine Sea to the west, encompassing 501,873 square nautical miles (1,299,851 square kilometers) of open ocean and littorals (coastal areas). The MIRC Study Area includes ocean areas in the Philippine Sea, Pacific Ocean, and exclusive economic zones of the United States and FSM," the 952-page MIRC Volume 1 obtained by the Variety states.

Portions of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, a protected federal area, were also part of the area in the Pacific Ocean that was studied.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest in the world encompassing 46 percent of the water surface on earth.

The Marianas Trench located within the CNMI is the deepest part of the ocean.

MIRC envisions extending its coverage to Tinian, whose two-thirds of public lands are leased to the U.S. military, as well as other parts of the commonwealth’s 14 island-chain.

"The range complex includes land ranges and training area/facilities on Guam, Rota, Tinian, Saipan, and Farrallon de Medinilla, encompassing 64 nm2 (220 km2) of land. The surface and undersea area consists of Warning Area 517 (W-517), restricted airspace over FDM (R-7201), and Air Traffic Control Assigned Airspace encompassing 63,000 nm2 (216,000 km2) of airspace," the MIRC EIS/OEIS further states.

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