Inos Urges More Oversight For Military Activities In CNMI

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Governor wants to ensure activities appropriately authorized

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 1, 2013) – Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands agencies may not have been fully aware of—or do not have proper oversight over—different visits that U.S. military personnel or their contractors have been making to Pagan and other islands, officials told Saipan Tribune. Gov. Eloy S. Inos himself said it "appears" that the CNMI’s authorization and permitting requirements "are at risk."

Inos urges an improved oversight and governance of military activities in the CNMI.

"I want to build a consensus on how to address this issue and have asked the lieutenant governor to take the lead role in this process to create greater organizational control over the Executive Branch’s oversight of the military operations and field work," the governor said in a two-page memo to five department and agency heads.

Inos issued the memo after concerns about the seeming lack of oversight over military activities on certain islands came up at a recent Cabinet meeting.

Department of Lands and Natural Resources (DLNR) Secretary Arnold I. Palacios, in an interview in Lower Base yesterday, said it is alarming to note that agencies that are supposed to know or grant authorizations for certain activities on Pagan, for example, have not been made aware of any such activities.

"It caught us by surprise. The governor and Cabinet members were surprised when I brought it up during a recent Cabinet meeting. For example, there were supposed to be environmental surveys in and around Pagan but agencies were not even aware of it," Palacios told Saipan Tribune.

At times, if there were ever a notice of planned activities on Pagan, they were delivered to the CNMI "on very short notice," he added.

To help ensure the CNMI has proper oversight of military activities on the islands, Palacios said his department’s Division of Fish and Wildlife and its other divisions stopped issuing permits to entities such as the military or its contractors "until they get a temporary authorization to enter public lands" from the Department of Public Lands (DPL).

Press secretary Angel Demapan, when asked for comments yesterday, provided a copy of the governor’s July 17 memo to five department and agency heads pertaining to the need to create greater organizational control over the Executive Branch’s oversight of the military operations and field work.

The governor was particularly concerned that a communication dated June 27 from U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific’s Craig Whelden containing three notices of proposed field survey work on Tinian and Pagan was given only to DPL "but no other CNMI Executive Branch agency, as far as I know, was given notice of this proposed work."

Inos asked the heads of DPL, DLNR, Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, Division of Environmental Quality, and the Coastal Resources Management to provide him with the status of their departments’ knowledge of the proposed work on Pagan and Tinian, and whether or not certain permits and authorizations are applicable.

The governor himself received the June 27 communication only on July 16, and he issued the memo on July 17.

The governor said agencies "need to ensure that the military and contractors [and subcontractors] doing this work are in compliance with our authorization and permitting requirements."

"However, if MARFOPAC is only sending notice to my office and DPL, then it appears that our authorization and permitting requirements are at risk," Inos said in his memo.

The governor wants a clear chart of which agency has oversight or authority to issue certain permits. These include temporary access to public lands authorization; CNMI scientific research permit/biological opinions; Section 7 Endangered Species Act MOU/oversight/authorization; Section 106-NHPA MOU/oversight/authorization; and one-start permit for earth moving and clearing.

This comes at a time when the U.S. military is eyeing the use of Pagan and Tinian for live-fire training ranges. The military is also eyeing a 50-year lease of some 33 acres of land on Saipan for the U.S. Air Force’s proposed divert airfield.

The U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific’s notice include a July 19 to 25 marine field studies on Tinian, particularly for coral and turtle; a July 27 to Aug. 1 technical survey of the entire Pagan for "ground trothing"; and an Aug. 2 to 30 Pagan and Tinian marine field studies. The latter covers beaches and offshore areas.

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