CNMI echoes Guam
Monday, 18 January 2010 03:44
by Gemma Q. Casas | Variety News Staff
Rota, Saipan public hearings raise concerns over buildup
Saipan—CNMI residents welcomed the idea of increasing the U.S. military’s presence in the Marianas but some expressed concerns over the consequences of the move on the environment and the socioeconomic landscape of the islands.
Last week, the U.S. Department of the Navy led a series of open house/public hearings on Saipan and Rota about the draft environmental impact statement for the Guam and CNMI Military Relocation project.
The relocation of the American troops, believed to be the largest since after the Vietnam War would cost both governments up to $10 billion.
The movement of the troops and their estimated 9,000 dependents would require massive construction of new facilities to house them and provide their regular drills and exercises.
The CNMI’s third largest island, Tinian, is envisioned to host a “warm base.” Two thirds of Tinian’s public lands or about 15,353 acres are leased to the military which plans to use them for live-fire ranges and other training activities.
At the public hearing on Saipan last Friday, Benigno Sablan, former secretary of the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources, said he has concerns about the dredging activities of the military that may affect activities of boat enthusiasts and fishermen.
He also raised concern about the definition of air space which the U.S. military intends to utilize to further train air force personnel and their allied forces.
Richard Seman, former director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife, said local access to fishing areas must be defined. He also urged military officials to look into the PCB contamination in other villages on Saipan.
Martin Manglona, former Covenant Party chairman and a military veteran, said a so-called “maneuver damage” should be established to afford residents and the CNMI government reimbursements in case of destruction on their properties by military activities.
Theresa Arriola of Saipan said the public has not been given enough time to study the impact of the military buildup project.
She said the indigenous people of the CNMI are not given proper considerations for what would become of their islands.
“We have to stand up and be proud of who we are. It is not intended to benefit our islands,” she said.
Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero of Guam said the people of the Marianas are being treated like second-class citizens in their own lands. “Comments are powerless. We are not making the final decision. They are. It needs to be on our terms. Until then, we would continue to die. My alternative is no action. Enough is enough,” she said at the public hearing.
Manglona, however, countered the public should not be hasty in making judgments against the military.
“Before we jump into any conclusion, let’s see what they have [to offer]. Let’s not get into scare tactics. Let’s be fair that’s all I am asking,” he said.
Commerce Deputy Secretary Sixto Igisomar urged the military to be more transparent and keep the public informed.“Please communicate with the people. Give us time,” he said. “If you want us to help you, please keep us informed.”
Igisomar also noted that the CNMI’s uninhabited volcanic island of Pagan which has rich deposits of pozzolan, a cement additive, should be tapped when the construction phase in Guam begins to help jumpstart the CNMI’s economy. “Make use of us to help you. Give opportunities to our contractors. We want to make sure that we all grow together,” he added.
Former House representative Manuel Tenorio, for his part, urged the military to work with the people of the commonwealth. He noted that a lot of the locals are educated people but most of them have not been given opportunities.
With the military buildup in the offing, he expressed hope that it would open up more opportunities for the locals. “We’re not second-class citizens. We’re good as anybody else. This island is drying up. Please listen to the local people,” he said.