Implications for Guam in CNMI military buildup lawsuit
By Neil Pang - email@example.com
HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — A new lawsuit filed in federal court on Saipan by local community members and the Environmental group, Earthjustice, could affect the military buildup plans to relocate about 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
The Marine relocation is part of a joint effort between the U.S. and Japan to assess the U.S. military presence in the region. The move, which is being paid for in part by the Japanese government, would include the construction of a Marine base in Dededo, the designation of a livefire range on Guam and increased military training in the Marianas. This increased training would include the staging of live-fire war games on and in the area of the islands of Tinian and Pagan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
In a press statement, Earthjustice described the type of training that would take place as “intense and destructive” and would include the use of “artillery, mortars, rockets, amphibious assaults, attack helicopters and warplanes and, on Pagan, ship-to-shore naval bombardment.”
Beyond the impact to the local environment and residents, the use of Pagan specifically has far-reaching ramifications for its citizens. On May 15, 1981, Pagan volcano erupted, forcing the island’s residents to flee. Many want to return to their original homeland and the use of the island for military training would prevent that from ever happening.
In their lawsuit filed on July 27, the plaintiffs asked the court to, “Vacate and set aside the 2010 and 2015 Records of Decision regarding the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to the Mariana Islands.”
Earthjustice is representing a number of local community groups including: the Tinian Women’s Association, Guardians of Gani, PaganWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity.
If the 2015 Record of Decision is so vacated, the military would face a serious impediment to the planned relocation.
The impetus for the suit, as asserted by Earthjustice, is that the Navy failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.
In a statement released on their website, Earthjustice attorney David Henkin stated, “The Navy blatantly violated mandatory legal duties when it decided to station Marines on Guam without any consideration of the destruction from live-fire training the Navy claims those Marines will need or of other places those Marines could be trained with far fewer impacts.”
Henkin said the use of the proposed regions would have “devastating consequences for the people of Tinian and Pagan and that the National Environmental Policy Act requires the Navy to take a hard look at all of the impacts associated with relocating 5,000 Marines to Guam and to look at alternative ways to accomplish its goals before making such a decision.”
The complaint filed in July asserts that the relocation of thousands of Marines to Guam and the construction and operation of live-fire ranges on Tinian and Pagan are “connected actions” because Marines relocated in this way would not be able to fulfill their national security missions without the adequate training they would receive through the use of those ranges. Thus, the relocation of Marines to Guam triggers or necessitates the use of areas in or around the Marianas for military exercise that would, by its nature, be both disruptive to the local populace and destructive to the environment. The complaint also alleges that the failure of the Navy to evaluate these “connected actions” in a single Environmental Impact Study violates standing law.