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    Wednesday, August 16, 2017-7:00:46A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

Navy wants wider restricted area, danger zone at FDM

THE U.S. Department of the Navy wants to extend military training airspace and sea space within the Mariana Islands Range Complex, but a House member reacted negatively saying it’s too much already.

Fleet Environmental Readiness Director L.M. Foster informed the Legislature yesterday that the Navy has completed the final environmental assessment for proposed modifications to military training airspace and sea space in the MIRC.

In his letter to Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, IR-Saipan, Foster said that under the preferred alternative, the Navy would extend the restricted area at Farallon de Medinilla from three nautical miles to 12 nautical miles and expand the planned surface danger zone from 10 nautical miles to 12 nautical miles, which would restrict vessels from entering the area out to 12 nm from FDM.

The Navy would also create new warning areas which would replace existing air traffic control-assigned air space.

Foster also provided the speaker with a copy of the “finding of no significant impact and finding of no significant harm.”

It says: “Based on the analysis presented in the environmental assessment/overseas environmental assessment and coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Navy finds that implementation of the proposed action in the Mariana Islands Range Complex will not significantly affect the quality of the human environment or cause significant harm to the environment of the global commons and, as a result, an environmental impact study need not be prepared. Therefore, pursuant to National Environmental Policy Act and Executive Order 12114, respectively, the Navy concludes with a [finding of no significant impact and a finding of no significant harm] for the proposed action.”

Foster also told the CNMI lawmaker that the Navy closely coordinated with FAA and considered public and agency input in the development of the final environmental assessment.

He said the proposed action that modifies and extends military training within MIRC “is needed to provide a safer and more efficient training environment and to maintain military readiness.

Under this alternative, Foster said designations of the airspace changes and danger zone would be mapped on aeronautical and navigation charts, thus, providing a greater awareness and protection to the public.

“Implementation of Alternative 2 would meet the Navy’s purpose and need by ensuring that activities are conducted safely in the controlled areas,” Foster told Deleon Guerrero.

But in an interview, Rep. Mario Taitano, IR-Saipan, said he will not agree to the extension of the restricted area in FDM. He said it is bad enough that the military is using the island. To extend it to 12 nautical miles “seems like they are going to totally restrict us from going there to fish.”

Taitano said he and his friends go to the Northern Islands to fish. The three-nautical-mile restriction area should be enough. Extending it to 12 nautical miles is asking for too much, he said.

The lawmaker said it should be the NMI’s leaders who say yes or no to this.

“This has to be a two-way street and not just them coming in and extending the area by additional nautical miles,” Taitano said.

Rep. Felicidad T. Ogumoro, R-Saipan, said she had a copy of the letter but she has not read it yet. She said she wants to read Foster’s letter first before making a comment.

According to the findings prepared by Rear Adm. Bret Muilenberg, the Navy’s safety policies and procedures ensure that activities are conducted safely in the controlled training and testing areas. These procedures minimize the potential for interaction between military and civilian activities by communicating, via notice to airmen and notice to mariners, that hazardous training and testing activities are underway.

It also said that the modification of the special use airspace and the expansion of the danger zone around FDM would provide a greater level of public health and safety by increasing the geographic extent of restrictions to all private and commercial vessels and aircraft during hazardous training and testing activities around FDM. Therefore, the impact on public health and safety would be positive as a result of implementation of the proposed action.

The findings also said that all military activities that are conducted in the Mariana Islands Range Complex are either scheduled or announced at least 72 hours prior to being conducted. Proposed airspace modifications would not conflict with existing air traffic service or civilian routes. “Any potential conflicts with civilian routes are minimized as a result of close coordination between the Navy and the FAA. The FAA will only establish the proposed special use airspace upon the conclusion of its own process and rulemaking. The expansion of the danger zone would restrict vessels from entering the area out to 12 nautical miles from FDM, which would increase public safety during hazardous training activity. The danger zone would be established under U.S. Army Corps of Engineering rule-making procedures,” the findings said.

Impact on economy

The Navy’s findings also said that the military does not limit fishing activities from occurring in training and testing areas except within three nautical miles surrounding FDM.

The Navy’s analysis of the impact on the regional economy focused on commercial and recreational fishing since the proposed action does not affect land or beach areas.

“Proposed airspace modifications and the expansion of the danger zone from 10 to 12 nm would not change the commercial or recreational fishing use of the areas or have an impact in the regional economy because displacement of commercial and recreational fishing is temporary and fishing in the general area is not precluded, especially during peak fishing seasons. The military takes measures to prevent the interruption of commercial and recreational fishing activities. These measures would continue after implementation of the proposed airspace and expansion of the danger zone, allowing commercial and recreational fisherman to plan accordingly. Therefore, no significant impact on the regional economy would occur as a result of the implementation of the proposed action,” the findings said.