CNMI Government To Conduct Own Hearings On Military Training

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Proposed exercise on Tinian, Pagan raise much opposition

By Joel D. Pinaroc

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 11, 2015) – The CNMI government is planning to conduct its own public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement on proposed military exercises on Tinian and Pagan.

The U.S. Department of Defense had just finished a series of public hearings on the draft EIS in the CNMI.

"We plan to conduct our own public hearing," said Lt. Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres on Friday.

The official said the U.S. military will "still be invited."

"The last [public hearing] was by the military, but the CNMI will have its own hearing, and let them watch how we do it," Torres said, adding that he is glad the CNMI community was able to "speak up" at the hearings.

The U.S. military held public hearings on Saipan and Tinian, and majority of the public comments opposed the proposed military exercises, particularly plans to conduct "live-fire" exercises.

The proposed plan to drop bombs on Pagan also apparently hit a raw nerve among the general populace, resulting in a resounding "no" to the plan.

Torres, meanwhile, said the government is set to meet with military representatives this week.

"Our lands do not grow. We have to support our lands, while still supporting the military. As we move forward, at the end of the day, the people should speak up, and they are speaking," Torres said.

Concessions

The U.S military earlier said it will start incorporating the public comments it had gathered on the draft EIS after conducting several public hearings.

According to Craig Whelden, executive director of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, the military will look for ways to address the public’s concerns and incorporate these concerns in the final EIS.

"We will collect all the public comments and we will incorporate them to the final EIS which will be released in July next year," Whelden said in an interview with Saipan Tribune.

Most of the public comments at the hearings opposed any bombings on Pagan.

Whelden said one possible action that the military can include in the next EIS is reducing the area on Pagan where the "live-fire" exercises will be conducted.

Aside from reducing the target areas, the military can also assign the targets in areas where there is lava, to reduce the impacts of the bombing on the island’s flora and fauna, he said.

Whelden said part of the proposed military exercises is to set up a volcano monitoring system on Pagan.

The official said the CNMI government’s request for an extension of the review period of the draft EIS is still being studied, but a decision will be forthcoming this month.

The military held the first hearing on Saipan on April 29, followed by another on Tinian on April 30, and the last on Saipan on May 1.

All of the hearings drew hundreds, and the common sentiment was opposition to the proposed military activities on Tinian and Pagan.

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