Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Military buildup hearing receives mixed reaction

Military buildup hearing receives mixed reaction

Monday, January 18, 2010
By Haidee V. Eugenio, Reporter

Residents weighed the pros and cons of the $15- to $20-billion military buildup in Guam and Tinian during Friday night's public hearing on Saipan, with some individuals expressing support to the multi-year project due to economic benefits and national security issues, while others oppose the project altogether for its ill social, environmental, and cultural impacts.

“Our economy is drying up. The local people are leaving because of lack of jobs here. We need the military, but we need to work together,” said former Rep. Manny Tenorio.

Martin Manglona, for his part, said there's no reason to be scared about military training ranges on Tinian.

“All plans on Tinian are for small ranges, nothing else. We have it in Kannat Tabla, so there's no problem,” said Manglona, adding that local people could get jobs and could find other business opportunities such as supplying fresh produce to the military.

Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero of the Guam-based We Are Guahan which is opposed to the military buildup, said the buildup intends to carry out U.S. Department of Defense plans, and “does not intend to help residents.”

She said that CNMI residents should never forget the environmental problems caused by the U.S. military in Tanapag, referring to the polychlorinated biphenyl contamination of soil and land crabs on Saipan's northern village.

Leon Guerrero also urged people to visit their website, www.WeAreGuahan.com, to know more about the group's strong opposition to the buildup.

Among other things, the group said the majority of the 18,000 jobs coming through the buildup will go to off-island workers and not local residents, and the buildup's draft Environmental Impact Statement does not mention military commitment to give Guam the money necessary to develop infrastructure to support a huge population influx.

They were among the estimated 30 members of the community, and another 30-plus Navy personnel and military contractors at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe on Friday night for the Joint Guam Program Office's public hearing on the buildup's draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The number of people who showed up in both the public hearings on Tinian and Saipan were far below the numbers on Guam wherein the hearings drew 200 to 400 people.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (D-MP) said there are issues not related to the military buildup that the people of Tinian also want to be addressed, including the needed repair of the outer seawall and piers.

“It would be great (if the military funds it) but they won't because it's not a military wharf. That has to be a Commonwealth project or funded from a separate funding because it's not a military harbor; it's commercial. And I've also been telling people that this is a military buildup in Guam. Tinian is only ancillary of the buildup and if people think that someone is going to get rich from the Tinian portion of the buildup, I would like to know how because I haven't seen it,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

'No more comment period extension'

Sixto Igisomar, speaking as a member of the public, asked for more time to review and comment on the draft environment impact statement on the military buildup.

There are some 11,000 pages of documents on the draft EIS/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement on the military buildup.

The draft EIS/OES can be accessed online at www.guambuildupeis.us.

Retired Maj. Gen. David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office, said JGPO believes that the 90-day comment period ending on Feb. 17 is sufficient.

“We've had well over 1,600 people come out to our public hearings where they asked questions and got their questions answered by experts. We've also gotten a lot of comments online as well as during the hearings,” Bice told Saipan Tribune.

Bice said there had been enough public outreach programs on the project, including public scoping in 2007, as well as partnership sessions with the local government and the regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We believe that our effort has been really unprecedented because this is a pretty large realignment and we had an unprecedented approach in terms of reaching out to the public and the regulators to ensure that our document is complete,” he said.

Bice said “every comment is important,” and every comment will be evaluated. The comments will also be recorded in Volume 10 of the final EIS.

“I can tell you that we are going to make adjustments to the EIS. We've heard comments made by people as we go along. I would make a mental note (when I hear) a solid comment that we need to take a look at either the plan or the phraseology that's in the EIS that may not be as clear as it should have been. So I can tell you that we are going to make adjustments to the EIS based upon the comments we received,” he added.

Townhall meetings

Despite the end of the six public hearings held in Guam, Tinian, and Saipan, there are still opportunities for residents to know more about the draft EIS/OES.

Tom Linden, coordinator for the CNMI Military Integration Management Committee, said MIMC, in partnership with the Office of Economic Adjustment and the Guam Advisory Consulting Team, will be hosting a public forum on Jan. 27, Wednesday, at the Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe.

He said representatives of the OEA and ACT will break down the 11,000-page EIS and be willing to answer any questions regarding the military buildup. The public is encouraged to submit questions ahead of time to the MIMC coordinator by sending e-mails to cnmi.mimc@commerce.gov.mp.

MIMC, created in June 2009, serves as the planning and policy making entity for all activities related to the expansion of military training and other defense transformation initiatives in the CNMI and Guam. It is the official entity through which the CNMI will interface with the U.S. Department of the Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, JGPO, the Department of Defense, and all other military representatives regarding the military buildup.

The Tinian plan

Because Guam cannot accommodate all training for the relocating Marines, the military looks at Tinian to provide opportunities for training groups of 200 Marines or larger due to greater land availability.

Tinian is only about 100 miles or 160 kilometers away from Guam.

The northern two-thirds of Tinian are leased to the U.S. Department of Defense. Company and battalion level non-live fire training areas already exist and are used on these lease parcels.

“The land, however, could be developed to accommodate live fire ranges,” the draft EIS/OES stated.

The proposed actions on Tinian include firing ranges for rifle known distance, automated combat pistol, platoon battle course, and field firing; and airspace use.

Comments on the draft EIS/OES can be submitted online, or during the public hearings set by the U.S. Navy in Guam and the CNMI.

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