Judge Refuses To Fully Dismiss Earthjustice Lawsuit Against CNMI Military Buildup

Federal Judge does dismiss claim that military failed to examine alternatives

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 13, 2017) – A federal judge on Friday decided that a lawsuit that challenges the military’s training plans for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands should not be entirely dismissed, as requested by the military.

But Chief Judge Ramona Manglona agreed with the military’s argument that one of the issues raised by opponents should be dismissed  - specifically, the argument that the military failed to properly examine the possibility of training somewhere else.

According to Manglona’s decision and order, the court is prohibited from interfering in those types of political questions.

“Requiring defendants to consider alternative locations after the decision to move to Guam and Tinian was made in conjunction with negotiations to remove Marines from Okinawa interferes with a decision made using military expertise,” Manglona wrote.

Manglona said the court can rule on how the buildup process itself is carried out, and stated the case can move forward based on the other argument by opponents  - that the military failed to incorporate its final training plans for the Northern Marianas into a single Environmental Impact Statement, along with the Guam military buildup.

“Plaintiffs allege that defendants violated (the National Environmental Policy Act) and the (Administrative Procedure Act) by failing to consider the connected actions of relocation of Marines to Guam and the construction and operation of live-fire ranges on Tinian and Pagan in a single EIS, or, alternatively, by failing to consider the cumulative impacts of the relocation and construction of live-fire training ranges in a single EIS,” she wrote.

The July 2016 lawsuit, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of groups opposed to military training in the CNMI, asked the federal court to throw out the 2010 and 2015 records of decision for the buildup, which could stop the military's plans for Guam as well.

As many as 5,000 U.S. Marines will relocate from Okinawa and elsewhere to a new base to be built in Dededo.

The CNMI lawsuit states the U.S. Navy failed to evaluate the environmental impact of training on the islands of Tinian and Pagan and also failed to consider alternate locations outside the Mariana Islands, "where the Marines could accomplish their mission with fewer adverse impacts."

Communities on Tinian would be subjected to high-decibel noise, as well as restricted access to fishing grounds, cultural sites and recreational beaches, according to Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of: the Tinian Women Association; Guardians of Gani, a nonprofit established to protect "Gani," which refers to the Mariana Islands north of Saipan; PaganWatch; and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Pagan would be the target of ship-to-shore naval bombardment as part of the training, which would destroy native forests and coral reefs, according to Earthjustice.

She gave both sides in the case two weeks to file briefs in response to her ruling.

Manglona has scheduled another hearing, later this month, on the subject of whether or not an appeals court ruling in a case challenging the construction of a U.S. air base in Okinawa would have an impact on the case in the CNMI. That’s because the military made some of the same arguments to dismiss in both cases.

Pacific Daily News
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