Military refines alternatives to proposed Tinian, Pagan training
- By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - [email protected] - Variety News Staff
HAVING considered the comments received during the scoping period and recognizing the concerns of the community, the U.S. military has made changes to the proposed alternatives in the ongoing National Environment Policy Act process on the improvement of existing and development of new live-fire military training areas on Tinian and Pagan.
A contingent of officials and staff from the Marine Forces Pacific visited Saipan from Wednesday to Friday engaging CNMI leaders, agencies and the community in a dialogue on updates to their proposed alternatives.
The Marine Forces Pacific contingent was led by MARFORPAC executive director (Ret.) Major General Craig Whelden.
At their presentation before lawmakers last Friday, Marine Forces Pacific deputy director William S. Febuary, Marine Corps Activity Guam officer in charge Col. Phillip Zimmerman, Operations Officer Tim Roberts, Environmental Specialist Sherri Eng, legal counsel Steve Wenderoth, and HDR Environmental operations and construction program manager Edward Lynch provided the lawmakers and other government officials with an overview of the changes since their last presentations made during the the scoping meetings back in April 2013.
At the recommendation of Whelden, the Marine Forces Pacific has initiated giving quarterly updates to the CNMI relating to their preparation of an environmental impact statement and overseas impact statement to assess the impact on the environment of the proposed training facilities on Tinian and Pagan.
Febuary told the lawmakers that they met with the Military Integration Management Committee and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider last Thursday where they provided a similar presentation on the updates.
“We would like to continue and have a regular meeting schedule, at least quarterly, to meet with them, to provide updates on a quarterly basis.”
They offered to provide quarterly updates “to ensure that as we go through this iterative process, we are capturing the concerns and making the necessary adjustments so we can still meet our operational requirements and address the environmental issues that come to the forefront.”
Febuary also said that this is an enhancement to the normal NEPA process.
In the standard NEPA process, there is what he referred to as a “black hole” — an 18-month-long period from the end of the scoping period and before the issuance of the draft EIS.
But through Whelden’s suggestion, Febuary said they will continue to have outreach activities in the CNMI to keep an open dialogue with the community and the leaders to capture their concerns and issues as they go through the “iterative process.”
Through this 18-month gap, they will continue to solicit input.
“We want to make sure that we are addressing all the things that we possibly can as we go through our analysis,” said Febuary.
They would like to come to the CNMI and provide the updates. We welcome the opportunity to come here and provide these updates on what the NEPA decision making process is, the timeline, what regulatory agency requirements are, among other things.
“Based on the scoping meetings and comments that we received, we have made changes to the proposed alternatives that we brought forth in the first beginning,” said Febuary.
He also assured the lawmakers that they will provide the Legislature with updates.
As to the NEPA process, Eng provided an overview of the process.
“NEPA is a process that requires federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of their actions,” said Eng.
She said this is an iterative planning process that starts with the issue of notice of intent and carries through all the way to the record of decision.
“The alternatives continue to be revised throughout this process,” said Eng.
She said the maps that they would be presenting before the lawmakers “will not be the final maps of the alternatives.”
She said that the NEPA process requires a federal decision maker to make an informed decision.
She was referring to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy as the final decision-maker in this NEPA process on the proposed training areas for Tinian and Pagan.
An informed decision comes from various aspects, she said.
Such an informed decision, she said, would come from the NEPA documents, the analysis that they do, the public input and information from the cooperating agencies.
“It is important to remember that NEPA does not require the decision maker to take the most environmentally friendly alternative or the most publicly accepted alternative,” said Eng.
Eng said they also reach out to other federal agencies such as FAA, NOAA, the Department of the Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, IBB, and the Pacific Command service components, among others.
Eng said laws and regulations require them to consult the National Historic Preservation Act, Endangered Species Act, Magnuson Stevens Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Clean Water Act.
These laws and regulations require them to finish consultations before a record of decision is reached.
She also presented a notional timeline which she said was the same timeline presented during the scoping meetings.
Eng said the draft EIS is currently scheduled to be released in late November of this year.
Changes to alternatives
Roberts provided a rundown of the changes to the alternatives since the scoping period.
“We are in the NEPA analysis phase of this project,” said Roberts.
He said they have taken into consideration comments received from scoping meetings, “other known community concerns, and all the extensive technical field work that we are doing as part of the project.”
Roberts said through these they were able to modify some of the reasonable alternatives that were presented during the scoping meetings.
He said they have eliminated some alternatives.
He said now they are able to focus on some specific issues.
Some of these issues include (1) access to various areas on Tinian and Pagan for cultural resources, fishing or tourism; (2) natural resources and concern for the environment; (3) landfill; (4) economics.
Roberts said they have taken extra steps to analyze and have taken measures to reduce or limit their impact on natural resources.
Roberts cited the major concerns for Tinian as (1) special-use airspace, (2) solid waste and (3) compatible use.
On the special-use airspace, Roberts said, “Our goal is to figure out a way to have simultaneous civil aviation with flights in and out of Tinian at the same time military live-fire training is going on.”
He said they designed the air space from a number of different angles in order to be able to activate or deactivate the only portions that they need to ensure safety to the public.
He said there are a couple of segments, often referred to as wing segments, which Roberts said extend far off the coasts of Tinian — the east and west sides — for approximately 6 miles.
He said their use of these will be limited.
He said these could be easily scheduled for use around the air taxi and air carrier flight schedules.
“There will be no impact on those services,” he said.
He said they would try to minimize the restricted area over water.
He said the wing segments will not be used 95 percent of the time.
He said they will move the boundaries on the east and west sides as close to the coast “as we can to allow for sea and air travel around the restricted sea and air space.”
Wing segments, their presentation stated, “can be activated on a limited basis to deconflict with air taxi/air carrier flight schedules.”
As to solid wastes, Roberts said they are considering a comprehensive long-term islandwide solution and development of an interim solution.
“The proposed new landfill is not going to be compatible with military training,” said Roberts.
He also said that solid waste studies are currently underway.
Roberts said they are focused in two directions: (1) looking at other alternative locations for landfill on Tinian AND (2) trying to determine if there is a need for landfill on Tinian
“If there are other means that can safely and efficiently dispose of solid waste without having to create another landfill, those are the directions we are going in,” he said.
Roberts said they intend to have further discussions with the CNMI on these options.
As to compatible use, Roberts said they recognize that activities on Tinian have been ongoing for years.
He cited economic and recreational activities occurring on the military-leased lands.
“We believe that all those activities, to one extent or another, will continue and can continue to occur,” he said.
He said the training on Tinian will happen 45 weeks a year.
“We are trying to find a balance,” he said adding that they will look at how they can provide access for cattle raising, the use of northern beaches, and the use of the National Historic Landmark.
He also said that some specific steps have been taken to redesign the ranges to maximize compatible use.
Pagan is not FDM
Roberts clarified some misconceptions that Pagan would be another FDM or training on FDM would be similar on Pagan.
“There appears to be a misconception as to what training on Pagan would actually be like,” said Roberts adding that some concerns included that land would be destroyed.
He also said that some were concerned that Pagan would be like Farallon de Medinilla and would be “bombed completely to oblivion.”
“That is certainly not the case,” said Roberts.
He also clarified, “FDM has not been bombed to oblivion either.”
He gave assurances that training was to be completely different on Pagan.
“Training proposed for Pagan will be much different from the training on FDM,” reiterated Roberts.
He also mentioned some specific conclusions they have made.
“We don’t have a need to do live-fire on the southern end of Pagan” he said.
He said they recognize that this area “is the only area on Pagan that has all of the original native habitat that Pagan had.”
He also said habitat on the northern end has changed over the years.
“It is our opinion that we could do without the live fire on the southern end and strictly use that as a conservation area,” he said.
He said they will preserve and protect the southern portion.
He also said they won’t have major vegetation clearing on Pagan.
Roberts said they would like to leave the habitat “exactly as it looks today.”
“The goal is to use areas that were previously disturbed,” said Roberts.
He said Pagan has significant lava fields on both on the north and south side of the Mt. Pagan.
Most of their large weapon systems will be used to fire at that area to limit the impact of those systems on the areas that were previously disturbed by lava, said Roberts.
“There will be no impacts outside of that,” said Roberts adding that they won’t be bombing trees.
He said there are a number of regulations that will help ensure that they keep Pagan as it looks today.
On compatible use, he said there are plenty of opportunities for compatible use on Pagan.
He said there were a lot of individual, recreational, and business ideas brought up.
“We think there are opportunities to include those ideas along with the military training on Pagan,” said Roberts.
Like the proposed training areas on Tinian, Roberts said they can find common ground on many opportunities for compatible use.
He added that the impact of the weapons systems will be contained within boundaries.
Roberts also said they can move the ranges so long as they can meet their operational requirements.