By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, February 20, 2009
Military officials were to begin public hearings on Guam and nearby islands this week on a proposal that would allow more large-scale military exercises on land, air and sea throughout more than half a million square miles in the Pacific.
The area — officially called the Mariana Islands Range Complex — includes training facilities and space for all military services, according to the Navy’s program manager for the required environmental impact statement.
Currently, the area is used for preparation and execution of large-scale military exercises that involve multiple aircraft carriers and to rehearse amphibious landings, said Edward Lynch, a retired naval officer who is overseeing the environmental review.
Those exercises involve a variety of military activities, from land-based firing ranges on Guam to deep-ocean anti-submarine tactics to air-bombing practice targets, Lynch said during a phone interview Wednesday from Guam.
The proposal would not change the types of training on Guam, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, or anywhere else in the area. Nor would it expand the area already used for training, Lynch said.
Rather, it looks at the environmental impact of increasing these large-scale military exercises from once every few years to every year, Lynch said.
The hearings — on Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Rota — are meant to give the public a chance to comment on the military’s plan, he said.
The area also includes portions of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, established by President George W. Bush in one of his final acts before leaving the White House last month. The monument’s legislation exempts military training from any prohibited uses, Lynch said. The language is similar to that regulating other areas where protected ocean and military training ranges overlap, he said.
The review does not include assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed move of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, Lynch said. That study is being conducted separately.