By Raquel C. Bagnol - firstname.lastname@example.org - Variety News Staff
The Tinian Women’s Association and three other groups have filed a complaint against the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense over their decision to relocate thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam and conduct live-fire training on Tinian and Guam.
Attorney Kimberlyn K. King-Hinds represents the plaintiffs in this case that also includes the Guardians of Gani, a Saipan-based organization whose members include NMI residents with but not limited to Chamorro and Carolinian heritage; PaganWatch, a Saipan-based association that includes members who are of Chamorro and Carolinian descent and who are past or current residents of Pagan; and the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation organization with over 45,000 members, some of whom reside in the NMI.
Named defendants were Ray Mabus, U.S. secretary of the Navy, and Ashton Carter, U.S. secretary of Defense.
King-Hinds said the plaintiffs are asking the federal court to enter a declaratory judgment that the defendants have violated and are violating the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act by adopting and relying on the legally deficient Final Environmental Impact Statement or EEIS and Single Environmental Impact Statement or SEIS to issue records of decision regarding the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to the Mariana Islands.
The plaintiffs are also asking the court to vacate and set aside the 2010 and 2015 Records of Decision regarding the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to the NMI; to issue any appropriate injunctive relief; to award the plaintiffs the costs of this litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees; and grant the plaintiffs other relief that the court may deem just and proper.
King-Hinds said the plaintiffs are also asking the court for relief for the defendants’ violations of the NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act or APC for failure to consider relocation to Guam and associated live-fire training in a Single Environmental Impact Statement or SEIS and for failure to consider alternatives.
King-Hinds said the plaintiffs are informed and believe that the actions on Tinian and Pagan will not proceed unless the relocation of the Marines to Guam takes place.
She said these are connected actions in a single EIS which violates the NEPA.
According to King-Hinds, the defendants violated NEPA by failing to consider in their Environmental Impact Statement the overall cumulative impact of relocating Marines to Guam and the live-fire range construction and operations on Tinian and Pagan.
King-Hinds said the Navy refused to give detailed consideration in its FEIS or SEIS to any alternate location outside the Mariana Islands to station or train the Marines relocated from Okinawa.
King-Hinds said the Tinian Women’s Association works to protect the environment of Tinian and is opposed to the training on Tinian associated with the Guam and the CNMI military relocation project.
King-Hinds said the association members are concerned that the proposed military training on Tinian would cause damage that would drive the residents out of Tinian; would cause devastating noise, pollution and health risks as well as loss of native species, loss of agricultural land, damage to coral reefs and other marine resources, loss of traditional fishing areas and lost productivity of traditional fisheries, loss and damage of access to cultural and historical resources; and harm to the tourism industry that is vital to the economy.
King-Hinds said the association is concerned that the travel restrictions brought about by the military training would affect the healthcare access of the people of Tinian to Saipan, Guam or the Philippines in a timely manner, and that travel restrictions would isolate families and inhibit the practice of important occasions like weddings and others.
King-Hinds said the Guardians of Gani are concerned that the training would affect the environmental health of the people and the islands, and that it would be a threat to the traditional, fulfilling lifestyle on Pagan.
The Guardians of Gani said the people of the CNMI already experience high cancer rates which they attribute to the chemicals and other contamination as a result of U.S. military activities during World War II and this could worsen.
King-Hinds said PaganWatch’s mission is to protect the rights and interests of people of Northern Marianas descent on the CNMI’s public land, including Pagan.
King-Hinds said in 2015, PaganWatch submitted comments on the CNMI Joint Military Training draft EIS and pointed out the Navy’s failure to comply with the NEPA’s mandate to consider in a single EIS the environmental impacts of both the proposed training for Pagan and the relocation of Marines to Guam.
King-Hinds said the Center for Biological Diversity has worked to protect the wildlife of Guam and the CNMI since 2000 including filing petitions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate species that are endangered or threatened.
The center filed a suit against the Navy in Dec. 2000 to stop the killing of migratory birds as result of live-fire training exercises on Farallon de Medinilla.
King-Hinds said in March 2002 the court found that the Navy violated the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by killing birds without a permit through the live-fire training exercises.
King-Hinds said there are currently no Marines stationed on Guam or in the CNMI and the training done by Marines in the Marianas occurs on a transient basis.
King-Hinds said in July 2010 the Navy issued a final EIS to evaluate the relocation of approximately 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
She said the Navy refused to look for an alternate location despite numerous public comments, and claimed that Guam is the only location for the realignment of forces that could satisfy national security needs and treaty obligations.
As Guam could not accommodate all the required live-fire training ranges, Tinian was chosen as the only suitable location.
King-Hinds said the Navy issued its Record of Decision based on the final EIS on Sept. 20, 2010 to build and operate live-fire ranges on Tinian.
In 2012, the U.S. and Japan modified their agreement and only 5,000 Marines would be relocated to Guam, but the Navy concluded that the ramped-up training also required their use of Pagan for live-fire training.
King-Hinds said on Aug. 28, 2015, the Navy issued its Record of Decision based on the supplemental EIS of 2015 which reaffirmed the Navy’s 2010 decision to relocate Marines from Okinawa to the Mariana Islands, despite lack of any final NEPA analysis of the live-fire training on Tinian and Pagan.
She added that the Navy announced its plan to issue a revised draft EIS, but the revised draft is not expected to be released until March 2017. The Navy stated it does not expect to issue a record of decision until sometime in 2018.