Thursday, February 18, 2016

Contentious Meeting at the Chamorro Land Trust Commission

Published by KUAM News on Feb. 18, 2016.

By Ken Quintanilla

The approval of up to 600 acres of Chamorro Land Trust property to be used for commercial purposes will have to wait - that's the decision by the CLTC, who tabled any action following concerns not just from the public, but commissioners as well.

"Our people must line up to individually apply for land and we believe that so, too, must these commercial business applicants," explained Catherine Flores McCollum. As part of the I Nasion Chamorro organization, she was one of several island residents who continue to oppose the Chamorro Land Trust's plans to lease out 600 acres of property for commercial use. "They may ask for a small amount to see if the commission can screen each commercial individuals request, but to just outright give them randomly 600 acres this is so ludicrous," she said.

The purpose of leasing out the properties for commercial use is to generate revenues to help fund much needed land surveys and infrastructure for residential and agricultural applicants who have been waiting for decades.

For social work student Luke Duenas, he says why doesn't the trust just collect money owed from people already leasing out commercial properties. He said, "Have you not learned from the past - instead of commercial leasing more land, bring justice to those who are not even paying. And the property value from back then as tripled if not quadrupled until now, so that's the solution you have to have more regulations on the people who are currently paying."

Department of Land Management director Michael Borja, however, says it's not an overnight thing and involves a lengthy process. "There is a really strict process laid out by the law that we also have to follow because they do have their rights, as well," he detailed.

That didn't sit well with McCollum, who said the CLTC has the power to evict anyone who doesn't belong there. "Find out why are these people are using having a business on a Chamorro Land Trust property. And if they're not paying, kick them out! And they're not even Chamorro - what the heck are they doing there?"

And just as the public had concern, so did CLTC chairman Joseph Cruz, who said, "This is not a win-win situation for Chamorro Land Trust, that's how I feel. So you make the move, because I'm not voting for a list."

Cruz wanted to know what were the pros and cons the CLTC would encounter if they moved forward with the leases. He said he wasn't comfortable making a vote, saying, "A lot of these are just your say, I work for the government and I don't appreciate looking at this like a rubber stamp - I don't. Everything in here could have been done better."

Commissioners eventually tabled the item on the agenda.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Groups Intend to Sue Navy, Feds

Published by on Feb. 10, 2016

By Dennis B. Chan

Environmental groups from the Northern Marianas Islands and nation-wide intend to challenge the Department of Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over an alleged failure to comply with Endangered Species Act and for ongoing live-fire and sea training in the Marianas Islands range, according to a notice of intent to sue these agencies dated Feb. 5.

“The Navy and the Service have violated and remain in ongoing violation of the ESA,” said David Henkin, an Earthjustice attorney, in the letter.

“If these violations of law are not cured within 60 days, [the groups] intend to file suit for declaratory and injunctive relief.”

Henkin’s letter appears to pin the grounds of a lawsuit on the Navy’s and Service’s alleged failure to reconsider the expansive military project in light of newly declared and threatened species in the Marianas.

The Navy fails “to insure that their military project will not likely jeopardize the continued existence of newly listed threatened or endangered species,” Henkin said.

The argument appears to center on the Navy’s continued and authorized training within the Marianas despite a lack of consultation with the wildlife service, after the Service’s declared 23 plant and animal species as endangered or threatened last October.

This consultation with the Service is required pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.
Henkin quotes the Service’s own words in their final rule on the matter: “The [Marianas Islands Training and Testing area] opens up every island within the Mariana Archipelago as a potential training site…which subsequently may result in negative impacts to any number of the 23 species addressed.”

The Service said the proposed actions include increasing in “training activities in Guam, Rota, Saipan, Tinian, Farallon de Medinilla (increase in bombing), and Pagan. Likely negative impacts include, but are not limited to, direct damage to individuals from live-fire training and ordnance, wildlife resulting from life-fire and ordnance, direct physical damage (e.g. trampling by humans, helicopter landing, etc.) to individuals, and spread of nonnative species.”

“Additionally, water purification training is proposed for all these islands, exept for Farallon de Medinilla, which may be particularly damaging to the Rota blue damselfly,” the Service said.
The Service’s final decision, Henkin said, “makes clear” that the Navy training may affect the newly listed species, “triggering the obligation to reinitiate consultation.”

“This notice letter was prepared in good faith, after reasonably diligent investigation,” Henkin said. “If you believe that any of the foregoing is factually inaccurate or erroneous, please notify us promptly.”

Comments from the Department of Navy were not available as of press time, but a Navy spokesperson said a statement would be forthcoming today.

Large picture frustrations

The potential lawsuit taps into larger frustrations over military projects—like firing ranges, a divert airfield, the proposed leasing of the entire island of Pagan, and the relocation of thousands of Marines to Guam from Japan—that military planners have issued and approved within the Marianas Islands range in recent years.

“Look at what is happening here,” Peter J. Perez, co-founder of the advocate group Pagan Watch, said yesterday. “A department of the federal government, not the leadership of the United States, not the President and the Congress, but a department, somehow has the right to unilaterally decide to turn a state’s territory into the world’s largest live-fire training range.”

“This is a severe encroachment on the territory of Guam and the CNMI,” Perez said. Pagan Watch is one of the handful groups attached to the notice to sue the Navy.

For the Marianas Islands Training and Testing area, or MITT, the Navy expanded a training area encompassing some 500,000 square nautical miles of ocean into an expansive 980,000-some square miles—an area that advocates have lamented is larger than the states of Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico combined.

In 2013, the late CNMI governor Eloy Songao Inos called on the Navy to conduct better baseline studies, grant more marine protection areas, and asked that undersea training not be done around certain island seamounts believed to be plentiful with marine life.

But in their formal response to Inos last May, the Navy said they could not impose these “geographic limitations on training and testing activities,” calling it an “impractical burden” to implement and an “unacceptable impact to the effectiveness” of their training.

The Navy approved the undersea ordnance training—inclusive of a reported roughly 300-percent increase of ordnance bombing on Farallon De Medinilla—last August.

Perez said the voices of the CNMI governor, the Senate and the House of Representatives, the mayors, the municipal council, or in other words, the entire local state-level government are all being “ignored.”

“The American citizens who live here—who have said “NO” in a strong and clear voice—are also being disregarded.”

“In fact, the only obstacle to the Department of Defense’s intention to take and bomb our islands and waters is the requirement under federal law that they follow the EIS process that was designed to ensure compliance with federal laws for the protection of the environment and historic assets.”

“Pagan Watch and the other signatories to the letter are determined to not allow the DoD to ignore the EIS process as well. It is all that is standing between us and what the late governor Inos characterized as the “existential threat” of the DoD turning our lands and waters into a giant live-fire range with all the destruction, contamination, and restrictions on the people’s freedoms that come with it,” Perez told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

The February notice of intent to sue lists a total of eight groups from the CNMI, Guam, and Hawaii in the notice to sue.

The attached groups include the Alternative Zero Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, Fanacho Marianas, Guardians of Gani, Oceania Resistance, Pagan Watch, Tinian Premier Football Club, and Tinian Women’s Association.

The letter was sent to the Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, USFW Service Director Daniel M. Ashe, and Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewel.

Monday, February 08, 2016

‘Navy Interests Should Be Included in Future Leasing Discussions’

Published by on January 26, 2016

By Dennis B. Chan

A U.S. Department of the Navy spokesman re-echoed Friday their claim to military use rights at the Tinian port, but said they do need not see any current conflict between their these rights and leases granted by the Commonwealth Ports Authority to commercial development.

The Navy’s desire is that military interests are part of the future and existing planning for leases, according to Joint Region Marianas public affairs officer Tim Gorman in an email.

Gorman was responding to questions from Saipan Tribune on the extent of their rights at the Tinian port, after a letter from Department of the Navy lawyer John Aguon to CPA lawyer Robert Torres surfaced, in which the former notes the Navy’s concern that current and future development at the Tinian port—including Bridge Investment Group’s $120-million casino resort—“may compromise DoD’s various rights.”

Gorman said that while JRM has become aware that the CPA has recently leased certain real property at the Tinian port to a private enterprise, “JRM does not see any current conflict with any CPA lease.“

“JRM personnel communicate and work with their CNMI counterparts on a wide variety of issues on a regular basis,” Gorman said. “In this instance, as the United States has certain rights contained in long-standing agreements with CNMI, such as the 1983 lease (as amended), JRM merely communicated its desire to continue to collaboratively work with the appropriate CNMI offices to help ensure that applicable DoD interests are part of the planning process in existing and future leasing actions. JRM will continue to work with our CPA colleagues to have fruitful discussions, just as we have regular discussions with our CNMI counterparts on other topics,” added Gorman.

In his January letter to CPA, Aguon reminds of these “longstanding agreements between the CNMI and Defense” that “authorize and guarantee DoD various military uses at the Tinian port and airport.”
“We desire to ensure these DoD rights are protected,” Aguon said. His letter notes that that certain portions of the port are currently leased to Bridge Investment Group—an investor building a reported casino resort on the Tinian wharf—and that in the future, “other portions of the Tinian port may be physically or legally encumbered by either Bridge or other private entities.”

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Tinian Resident Emphatically Oppose Military Buildup

Tinian Residents Emphatically Oppose Military Exercises
Public hearings so support for ‘No Action Alternative’
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

TINIAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 4, 2015) – Citing broken promises relating to the Covenant negotiations, and significant impact on the environment and the local economy, the people of Tinian came out in droves and expressed their emphatic "No" to the military’s proposal to build live-fire ranges and training areas on Tinian.

At Thursday night’s public hearing on the draft CNMI Joint Military Training environmental impact statement at the Tinian Junior Senior High School, the island’s leaders and residents unanimously conveyed their opposition to the military plan and indicated they favored the "No Action Alternative."

Explaining that they are not anti-military, but are against the proposal, the residents led by Tinian Mayor Joey P. San Nicolas underscored the military action’s significant impact on their island’s environment and economy.

Prefacing his statement that he is not averse to the military, that he has a son who serves in the U.S. Air Force, that the island has many veteran residents, he said the meeting was not about their support for the military but rather about the proposed military action.

"For the record, I and the members of the Tinian leadership are against the manner in which the military proposes to use Tinian as described in the draft EIS," said San Nicolas which was applauded by the residents.

San Nicolas said Tinian is a pristine island — virtually untouched — and home to unique bird species, coral reefs and plants used by their "suruhånu" — healers.

"The construction of live-fire ranges and a training complex that uses artillery, mortar and rocket launchers, will have significant, devastating and permanent impacts on our reefs, our jungle and our soil," he said.

The planned construction of a landing area for amphibious assault vehicles will require the dredging of 800,000 cubic feet of marine habitat.

Citing the DEIS, San Nicolas said this will "permanently change the habitat of the near shore areas of the beach of Unai Chulu."

The plan will also destroy approximately 2,000 acres of jungle which serves as a habitat for many native birds.

Under the military’s preferred alternative, San Nicolas said 7,200 of Tinian Monarchs, or approximately 8 percent of the total population will suffer loss of nesting and foraging areas.
It will also have a significant impact on other bird species, he said, such as Bridled White Eye, Micronesian Starling and Rufous fantail.

He also said construction of live-fire ranges will permanently destroy 230 acres of prime farm land soil.

"That means 16 percent of the total prime farm soil available on Tinian will be lost forever," he said adding that the DEIS has no mitigation for this loss.

He said they will never get these back.

He said the millions of bullets, grenades, and rockets used every year will make their lands "essentially unusable."

He also said that cleaning up waste has never been a priority for the military, citing waste left on Tinian decades ago.

"We have a duty to protect our environment for future generations," he said.

He said that based on these significant impacts, the military should select the no action alternative.
Sen. Francisco M. Borja also cited these impacts, particularly on the cattle ranchers.

The plans will have a devastating impact on the cattle industry and Tinian’s economic growth, he said.

The DEIS, he said, is not clear about how much access to military leased lands will be available throughout the year.

He said the proposed action will impact tourism as it will limit access to to 10 out of 12 historical sites.

"Two of these sites, the Shinto Shrine and Hinode will be destroyed," he said.

He also cited the loss of access to major dive sites.

Municipal Council Chairman Reynaldo Cing said, "The plan as proposed will change every aspect of our life as we know it."

He also decried the loss of access to historical and cultural sites.

He said there will be 22 weeks of pre- and post-training preparation on top of the 20 weeks a year in training.

"The military must be honest and transparent with us," he said.

He said he supports the military, but he doesn’t support the plan.

Serafina Rosario King Nabors, said she did not vote for a live-fire range when they approved the Covenant decades ago.

"Forty years ago we were marching for the Covenant," she said, adding that it was promised that a base would be built on Tinian that would provide jobs for Tinian residents.

She said they did not vote for a training range.

"You were already given Farallon de Medinilla," she said addressing the military.

As she spoke in Chamorro and English, she mentioned the incidence of cancer on island.
She said she is herself a cancer survivor.

She asked for the training ranges to be constructed in California.

"Biba Marianas! Biba Chamorro," said Nabors to the crowd’s deafening applause.
For his part, Lino Lizama opposes the bombing of Tinian and Pagan.

Joseph Connelly, who has been living on Tinian since 1984, said, "This public access needs to be further explained to the Taotao Tinian."

He also asked questions relating to construction of the ranges for 8-10 years.
He raised concerns related to the proximity of munitions areas to the airport.

Vietnam War veteran Gil Borja opposes the action, saying he opposes any training exercise on Tinian and Pagan.

He said Hawaii is different: the firing range is far from the town.

14-year-old Chelsea Rosario said it will impact the peace and tranquility on island.
She said the proposed action will reduce the culture and heritage to a "memory."

Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission Chairman Matthew C. Masga said he is unequivocally opposed as it will have a significant impact on the casino industry and will heap burdens on a lot of people.

Masga said one week of training alone is too much of a burden.
He cited the noise that will make Tinian unattractive to tourists.

He said tourism will see a downward spiral due to limited activities on island.
"Our people and tourists will no longer be free to visit historical sites," he said.
For Eric San Nicolas, the U.S. military does not own two-thirds of Tinian, "they lease it."
He said, "We are the patrons of the land. Land is connected to us. Our land is connected to our soul."
John Barcinas said it is their right to say, "No."

For Kimberly Hinds, the DEIS is nothing more than a plan to destroy Tinian "and to kill our culture."
She said what the military calls restricted access to beaches, to coastal zones, alterations of the seafloor, and taking away corals, "is what we call our customary right and way of feeding our families. What you call your cattle grazing mitigation plan is a threat to our food supply and our ability to be self-sustaining. What you call restricted access to our cultural sites is really a denial of our ability to practice our traditional and customary rights…picking ‘donni,’ paying respect to our dead, going hunting." For Hinds, the 20-week training will be an economic shackle on Tinian that is struggling to be self-sustaining.

"No respect to the land and to the people of this community," she said.

Jose P. Kiyoshi, a former Marine, said the promise back then was for a military base; not a firing range.

"No to the firing range; yes to the base," he said.

He said this will change the lives of the people in the community.

Debra Fleming also said there were so many broken promises: the promise of a U.S. military base, a commissary, a theatre, and a school.

She said the dock was never fixed.

"Now they want to dredge Unai Chulu," she said pointing out that it is an ancient burial ground, where there are latte stones.

"All this EIS—is a waste of our time. What’s the point in all of this," she said.

She asked if the CNMI could renegotiate to take the land back "at the price they purchased it?"
The use of bombs was never in the picture when they negotiated the Covenant.
Juanita Mendiola told the military to build their own island.

She said the destruction of Tinian and Pagan is not exclusively local — it is global.

"This island is sacred to all of us. This entire island is sacred. Please do not desecrate it," she said.
Archaeologist Craig Weaver said the DEIS did not mention anything on preservation.
Lou Dela Cruz said Tinian is too beautiful to be destroyed.

Keith Nabors asked the people to say "no" to the proposed military action.

He said in past military exercises, with boots on the ground, "they landed on the wrong beach."
Even with modern technology, they landed on the wrong beach, he said.

He expressed his concern that with the firing-ranges, mistakes like this may happen.

Joseph Mendiola said they support the military yet the training on Tinian will impact their livelihood.
He cited the noise impact as evidenced from the Fury exercises.

Whelden clarifies: No live explosives on Tinian
Marine Forces Pacific Executive Director Craig B. Whelden dispelled the notion that they will be bombing Tinian.

"We are not planning to drop live explosive bombs on Tinian. We are not," he said.
He said the requirement is for them to train on how to provide air support and drop what they call ordnance — which is a generic term for bombs onto a target.

Having this skill can save thousands of lives.

"What we have planned is dropping inert bombs — essentially they have a puff of smoke when they hit the ground so we can see where they landed so we can practice that critical skill."

Inert bombs, according to online sources, "are aerial munitions filled with wet sand or cement."
According to, inert bombs are also called "dumb bombs."
The same website said that an inert bomb won’t explode, which means it can’t produce blast effects, and it can’t spray the area with lethal metal fragments.

The dropping of the inert bombs will only be done 10 percent of the time or for about two weeks.
Whelden also clarified that they are not sneaking behind the people’s backs as claimed by one person who spoke.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. I signed at least a dozen letters to the governors, to the mayors, to the directors of CPA, DPL, to other groups, governmental groups, identifying what we have in mind, why we have it in mind, when we would do it, who was coming, who we will coordinate with when we got here," he said.

He said in some cases they ask permission on property they don’t have control over outside the military lease area.

"We did it openly, with full notification of the government," he said.
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