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Last updateWed, 31 May 2017 12am

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    Tuesday, May 30, 2017-1:06:13A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

Military: Alternatives for Pagan not final yet

REPRESENTATIVES of the Marine Forces Pacific have assured the community they will continue to welcome input from the public as they shape the alternatives for the proposed training sites on Pagan and Tinian.

In an ad hoc committee meeting at the conference room of the Office on Aging on Monday, Marine Forces Pacific representatives said nothing is set in stone as yet, and they want the public to come forward and let them know their concerns.

“If it is identified to us, we can take that into consideration, avoid it completely or minimize the impact on certain areas,” said Tim Robert, MARFORPAC Defense Policy Review Initiative Planning Group Operations Officer, referring to concerns by Pagan residents over the impact of the training on the sacred, cultural and heritage sites of the Chamorros.

He said they would like to continue to have ad hoc meetings on Pagan to help shape the alternatives that will best suit all stakeholders.

Marine Forces Pacific representatives meet with local residents, Historic Preservation Review Board vice chairman Don Farrell and other local agency officials in the Office on Aging conference room, Monday.  Photo by Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

Absent ad hoc meetings, the U.S. military will work with federal regulatory agencies that will provide them with input throughout the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA process.

“They don’t speak for the people of Pagan,” said Robert as he addressed Pagan-born John Castro and Diego Kaipat, among others.

He said, “We will incorporate whatever we learn about Pagan into our draft plan.”

In the 18 months from the end of the scoping period through the release of the draft environmental impact statement, the Marine Forces Pacific — the U.S. Pacific Command’s executive agent in handling the CNMI Joint Military Training EIS/OEIS — will conduct further engagements with the public through ad hoc meetings.

The NEPA process — from notice of intent, public scoping/comment period, Draft EIS/OEIS, public review and comment period, Final EIS/OEIS, Wait Period, to the issuance of the Record of Decision — has an 18-month period in which the community is afforded the opportunity to bring up with the U.S. military their concerns that could be factored in the plan.

“We have another year or so before we finalize the plan,” said Robert.

But he emphasized how critical it was for members of the public to come forward during this period and help shape the plan for Pagan.

Robert said Pagan is critical to meeting their training requirements in the same way that Tinian is.

“Tinian cannot meet all the requirements that we have. Pagan alone cannot meet all our training requirements,” he said.

He said the two offer distinct locations for them to meet their training requirements.

Asked by the Historic Preservation Office’s Erik Lash what Pagan offers that Farallon de Medinilla doesn’t, Robert said the training on Pagan is “about integration of ground forces.”

He said that this will be about integration between air and ground combat elements.

Robert said FDM is completely different from Pagan.

Pagan-born John Casto raised the issue of the impact of the military’s footprint on their access to sacred and fishing grounds.

For Robert, “If there are special traditional areas that need to be identified and marked off, those are easily incorporated into a battlefield scenario. They will be identified on our military maps as ‘no-go’ areas” and will be off limits for the military.

Castro noted that the beaches where the military intends to do amphibious landings are areas where they conduct traditional practices.

Castro also pointed out that if the runway on Pagan is included in the National Historic Register, will it be excluded from being used.

Historic Preservation Review Board vice chairman Don Farrell said that Tinian’s North Field is a National Historical Landmark. But it doesn’t prevent the military from using the area.

Castro reiterated to the visiting Marine Forces Pacific that “prevention is better than cure,” saying that it is better to anticipate and resolve concerns as soon as possible.

He also thanked the visiting military representatives for the opportunity to share their concerns.

Robert assured them there would be more meetings to share more details of the plan and “to get more information from you that live there.”

Environmental specialist Sherri Eng encouraged them to come up with questions and concerns.

She said the more these are shared, the better they will be able to address them in the EIS.

It was agreed, too, that MARFORPAC will have a walkthrough of the proposed training sites with Pagan residents.

Robert and Eng met with Farrell, Pagan-born residents, local agency representatives at the Office on Aging in Chinatown along with Marine Corps Activity Guam operations officer Major Chris Merrill, HDR Environmental operations and construction program manager Edward Lynch, among other MARFORPAC representatives.