Sunday, November 08, 2009

Final report on Marianas range expected soon

Final report on Marianas range expected soon

By Steve Limtiaco • Pacific Daily News • November 9, 2009

The draft environmental report that will set the stage for the military buildup on Guam, including the construction of a new Marine Corps base in Dededo, won't be made public for about two more weeks, but a different environmental process related to increased military training in the region is expected to wrap up by the end of this year.

The military plans to step up the number and types of training exercises on and around Guam and the rest of the Mariana Islands, and it started an environmental review process for the "Mariana Islands Range Complex." A draft environmental report was released Jan. 30, the public comment period on that report ended March 31, and a final record of decision is expected by the end of this year.

As an example of the proposed changes, the "Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance/Strike Force at Andersen Air Force Base, which operates as many as 48 fighter planes, six bombers, four drones and 12 aerial refuelling planes, is scheduled to increase its operations by 45 percent."

The strike force currently operates an average of 14 take-offs and landings a day from Andersen, the environmental report states, which means there could be about 20 a day.

And a permanent 10-mile restricted safety zone would be created around the Farallon De Medinilla firing range in the Northern Mariana Islands, the study states. All private and commercial vessels would be prohibited from entering that restricted area, which could be temporarily extended as far as 30 miles during military training.

The waters around that island currently are restricted only 3 miles from shore, and only when there is training, the environmental report states.
Provides a glimpse

The environmental process for the new training plan, although on a smaller scale than the Guam buildup, is several months ahead of the buildup's environmental process and provides a glimpse of what Guam residents can expect to see in the environmental report.

Residents will have 90 days to comment on the Guam buildup's draft environmental report after it is made public.

The section devoted to the impact of training on marine mammals reads like a science textbook, providing information about the types of whales that can be found in the Marianas, how well they hear underwater, and the effect military sonar training might have on their behavior.

As an example, the report states Blue Whales continued foraging when exposed to low frequency active sonar.

Unlike the military buildup and the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, the new military training proposal will not involve any extensive changes or expansion and will not require any construction projects, the environmental report states.

There could be an overlap between the requirements for the military buildup and the new training proposal, the environmental report states, and documents for the two environmental reports are being coordinated to ensure consistency.

"This study is important because it determines the potential effects on the environment from current and future training activities and provides recommendations for minimizing those effects. It also gives the services the opportunity to review their procedures and ensure that the benefits of recent scientific and technological advances are used to lessen effects on the environment," the environmental report states.

The environmental report concludes that the increased training would create "irregular, minor, and short-term disturbances from military activity noise, but would have no unavoidable significant environmental effects."

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