Senator opposes expansion of military training at FDM

SENATE Floor Leader Ray N. Yumul has reiterated his opposition to the proposed expansion of the military training airspace and sea space around the Mariana Islands Range Complex, particularly around Farallon de Medinilla.

In an interview on Wednesday, Yumul, IR-Saipan, said he has written the U.S. Navy a letter opposing the proposal to extend from three-nautical to 12 nautical miles the restricted area and expand from 10 nautical miles to 12 nautical miles that danger zone around FDM.

Ray Yumul

The senator said since FDM is more or less 45 nautical miles from Saipan, the preferred alternative in the final environmental assessment takes almost one-fourth of the areas used by local fishermen.

He said among the Northern Islands, FDM has the largest areas to submerged lands around it. These submerged lands are teeming with bottom fish and pelagic fish.

“The bottom fish you see at fish stores here are mostly from the northern islands,” he said.

If the danger zone and restricted area are expanded, Yumul said it is going to create a problem for fishermen.

In its “Finding Of No Significant Impact and Finding Of No Significant Harm” document, the U.S. Navy said   all military activities 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 findings said.

But Yumul said the military could have continuous presence there. There could be a rotation of vessels for the training and so it is basically going to be off limits to the local fishermen.

“It may happen. Right now we don’t see the frequency of their presence. But if it increases, it is going to be very difficult for the fishermen to go up there,” Yumul said.

He added that the weather conditions and rough waters of the ocean are already bad enough for the fisherman. The expanded danger zone would make it worse for them, he said.

Even participants in the annual fishing derby reach FDM, he said so it would also affect the long-standing cultural traditions of NMI people.