Marianas as one big military camp
By Gerardo R. Partido
Variety News Staff
18 June 07
THE public scoping meetings scheduled to be held on Guam and the CNMI this week may be more important than the ones recently completed for the Marines' relocation plan.
The draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, for the proposed Mariana Islands Range Complex is regional in scope, affecting not only Guam but also Saipan and Tinian.
It also involves not just an increase in military personnel but also an increase in the number and type of training operations such as underwater mine warfare, antisubmarine warfare, and other underwater training that could have an impact on the environment.
The U.S. military has long been using the Marianas as a training range but not in the scope that is being proposed now which is why the military is holding public scoping meetings to draw up a new EIS that would supplant the Marianas Training Plan EIS drawn in 1999.
Moreover, the proposed action not just revolves on training activities but actually goes beyond training and also focuses on the "research, development, testing and evaluation of systems, weapons and platforms."
One such new weapon and platform is the future proposed Littoral Combat Ship which is the first of the U.S. Navy's next-generation surface combatant ships.
The concept behind the Littoral Combat Ship as described by the Navy is to create a small, fast, maneuverable and relatively inexpensive ship that can be easily reconfigured for multiple roles.
These roles include anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, homeland defense, maritime intercept, special operations, and logistics functions that can be launched from Guam during times of conflict in the region.
Both the Guam and CNMI economies are expected to benefit from the expansion of the militar's activities in the Mariana Islands Range Complex as the military also wants to upgrade and modernize ranges and training areas, including new small arms and mortar ranges, Military Operations on Urban Terrain, and a new mortar range and other live-fire ranges on Tinian as well as more capable fixed underwater training ranges.
According to the military, the facilities of the Mariana Islands Range Complex are unique because of their location in the western Pacific where deployed U.S. forces can maintain their war fighting proficiencies.
This range complex is also in proximity to forward deployed U.S. naval forces that also need to maintain their war fighting proficiency."The range complex provides U.S. forces with a wide range of training opportunities involving varying degrees of complexity and diversity, which enhances the training benefit," a backgrounder provided by the military said.
To keep up with advances in technology and new security challenges, the military said the various U.S. Services including the U.S. Coast Guard, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force occasionally need to change their operations, including the way they test weapons and train service personnel.
Before making any changes, the military said it is vital to ensure that the changes will not harm the environment of the Marianas, including the land and sea animals and plants; natural resources; cultural sites and artifacts; and the economic well-being and quality of life of the Marianas people.
Thus, the need for an Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS/OEIS, that would study current and future training activities in the Mariana Islands Range Complex.
The first public scoping meeting for this EIS will be held at the Guam Hilton today from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Subsequent meetings will be held at the Hyatt Regency Saipan on Wednesday and the Tinian Dynasty Hotel on Thursday.
The scoping meetings have two main objectives: to inform the public about the Defense Representatives Proposed Action and to obtain written comments on environmental issues to be addressed in the EIS/OEIS.
The U.S. Defense Representative is accepting comments throughout the 45-day comment period, from June 1, 2007 to July 16, 2007.
According to DoD, there may be some overlap between the Mariana Islands Range Complex EIS/OEISs and the EIS being prepared for the relocation of the Okinawa Marines.
But DoD said the preparation of these documents between the Commander Pacific Fleet and the Joint Guam Program Office will be closely coordinated to ensure consistency.