The military doesn’t intend to break ground on construction projects related to the transfer of about 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam until after January 2017, according to a Justice Department filing with the federal court in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The groundbreaking for the proposed construction of a Marine Corps base in Guam, a housing facility for the Marines’ families at Andersen Air Force Base, and other projects related to the relocation, won’t happen until the conclusion of consultations on how the military’s buildup plans would affect protected wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, according to the Justice Department.
And the military does not anticipate the consultations will be completed before January 2017, according to the filing, signed by Taylor Ferrell, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division in Washington, D.C.
The Justice Department filed court papers in response to a civil lawsuit by Northern Marianas environmental advocacy groups, against the Department of Defense.
Earthjustice, a legal nonprofit group, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Tinian Women’s Association, Guardians of Gani, PaganWatch and Center for Biological Diversity.
Although the plaintiffs are specifically concerned about the proposed military training in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, they asked the federal court to throw out the 2015 record of decision for the Marine Corps buildup, which could stop the military's plans for Guam as well, if the plaintiffs succeed.
The Justice Department asked for, and was granted, more time to answer the lawsuit in detail. The federal government’s new deadline for filing a response has been pushed back to Nov. 23, from Oct. 26.
The federal government will argue that the court in the Northern Marianas lacks jurisdiction to entertain the plaintiffs’ claims, according to the Justice Department, and it intends to file a motion that details its reasons.
The planned relocation to move about 5,000 of the Okinawa-based Marines to Guam is part of a broader agreement between the U.S. and Japan governments to reduce the presence of about 18,000 Marines in Okinawa by nearly half.