CNMI Insists U.S. Live Up To Prior Programmatic Agreements

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Before committing to divert airfield, prior projects must happen: Torres

By Dennis B. Chan

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 10, 2016) – CNMI government officials warned Tuesday of finalizing agreements with the U.S. military for new projects advancing in the Northern Marianas while other commitments made years ago potentially overlap, conflict, and remain unfunded to this day.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said Tuesday he has notified the U.S. Department of Defense of these concerns. Torres, when pressed, acknowledged they are negotiating a "programmatic" agreement for a divert airfield project on Tinian "and yet we still need to address…prior ones."

Programmatic agreements are essentially measures agreed to by consulting parties to protect historic properties affected by Defense projects.

"We are going to have more thorough conversations," Torres told reporters after a Cabinet event Tuesday. "We cannot continue to be just signing PAs [programmatic agreements] and signing, signing, signing."

The CNMI has signed on to two agreements for the "Marianas Islands Range Complex" project in 2009, and the "Guam/CNMI military relocation" project in 2011.

The Department of the Navy, though, has continued to bench the $1.7 million promised for historic projects on Saipan and Tinian until the outcomes of their latest live-fire project on Tinian, according to an information paper provided to Delagate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) late last month.

The Department of the Navy has also "seemingly ignored" the MIRC agreement, which mandated a yearly update of Tinian historic sites to allow for "new data" to alter even "eliminate" training proposals.

The National Park Service signaled as much in a breakdown of the latest military live-fire project, the "CNMI Joint Military Training" project, or CJMT, last month.

The Service found that the CJMT ignored MIRC-sponsored cultural studies that recommended military "constraint" areas or mitigation zones.

These zones appear to have been ignored or are "non-existent" in the CJMT, the NPS report found.

"That we are negotiating other PAs, while previous PAs have gone unfulfilled, does not lend credibility to the process or the promises," said Robert Hunter, executive director of the NMI Museum of History and Culture.

"If DOD representatives are going to spend the significant amount of time and resources, both theirs and ours, to negotiate these PAs," Hunter said, "then they should be doing so with the complete support and backing of the DOD and the U.S. Congress, otherwise these are as good as promises written in sand."

‘Abide by contracts’

Torres sent a letter to the U.S. Pacific command Anthony Crutchfield on Tuesday that echoed these concerns, and how they "tie in" with the divert airfield and CJMT project, a senior administration official confirmed Tuesday.

Crutchfield is the single point of contact for Defense projects in the NMI.

"We as a government, we as a CNMI," said Torres, "abide by those contracts and agreements and we would like to have DoD—or any other entity for that matter—that when we have an agreement, ‘you put your share in and we put our share in’ and address those agreements, before we move on to the next step."

"I have echoed that concern and I am waiting their response," Torres told reporters on Tuesday.

Hunter, for his part, agreed.

"This [2011] programmatic agreement, which was negotiated over many months between CNMI and Guam agencies, to help address concerns related to current and future increased military use, has sat for years without seeing the inclusion of these funds in the DOD budget," Hunter told Saipan Tribune.

In the case of the museum, the $1.7 million that would be directed to it would go toward an onsite storage and curatorial facility at the museum, Hunter said.

These would house current historic materials that were derived from past, current, and future, military-use properties, and additionally provide for a small museum/interpretive exhibit on Tinian.

"These monies would go a long way toward assisting the museum with its storage and curatorial workspace needs, " Hunter said, "and would finally see a museum on Tinian, which played an extremely important role during the war, and is playing an increasingly important military role."

Controlling legal documents

The previous programmatic agreements set the precedent, or are seen as the controlling legal documents, amid discussion for more mitigation agreements or resolutions to the latest planned military projects in play.

"The DON remains committed to funding cultural resources mitigation measures for Tinian…if the portions of the action planned for Tinian…are carried out," the Defense Department told Sablan’s office last month.

Defense was referring to the small arms ranges approved on Tinian but remain "on hold," pending completion of review for the CJMT.

The 2011 programmatic agreement stipulated, among others, that the military include in an "upcoming president budget submission" a request for Congress to authorize and appropriate money to cover $1.2 million for a curation facility on Saipan, and $500,000 for a cultural and interpretive center on Tinian.

Asked if Defense has ever included the request in the President’s budget, Sablan’s deputy communications director Tina Sablan said Monday, "No, they have not,"

"And Congressman Sablan shares the same concerns that Commonwealth officials and historic preservation advocates have expressed, that the Department of Defense should be held accountable for commitments outlined in the Programmatic Agreement to support and fund cultural resource mitigation measures," Tina Sablan said Monday. "The congressional office will continue to monitor completion of the revised CJMT EIS, and DoD’s efforts to follow through on all their obligations, including the obligation to protect the cultural, historic, and environmental treasures of the Northern Marianas from harm."

The MIRC agreement, for its part, states "training constraint maps" would be updated on "yearly basis so that these maps remain current as new information comes available" and that "training activities may be eliminated, reduced, or expand based on new data." However, not only are the training constraint areas and historical data ignored by the military’s live-fire project, NPS found last month, "some of the most significant impacts" to historic and cultural resources would "occur in training constraint areas and/or would result from actions that go against" the Navy’s own findings.

The Park Service report found that a "high hazard impact" training area in the CJMT project was given "limited training" designations in the earlier Navy project.

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