01 May 2015
- By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor - email@example.com - Variety News Staff
IT was a resounding “NO.”
Saipan residents came in droves Wednesday night to Saipan Southern High School to voice their emphatic opposition to the proposed live-fire range and training areas on Tinian and Pagan.
“No means no,” said radio personality Gary Sword as he encouraged the people to speak up against the proposed military action.
For Sword, the land belongs to posterity — “to our children.”
Addressing the other residents, Sword said, “If you haven’t put in a comment, shame on you!”
Rep. Vinny Sablan was the first to express his opposition to the military plans described in the EIS document.
He noted the lack of access to cultural and recreational sites which would have a significant impact on their lives.
“Culture is very important to us,” he said.
He also noted the reduced access of fishermen to fishing grounds which Sablan said would be detrimental to their livelihood.
Jack Muna said he loves the military; however, he opposes the military’s live training on Tinian and Pagan.
He described Pagan as a virgin island — the last frontier.
For Muna, the training will have a significant impact on the environment.
Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero said he would reserve his testimony for the Garapan meeting.
Steven Johnson said the draft EIS “is a bloated and sloppily put together document, full of errors, vague definitions and false assumptions, to overwhelm and confuse the average reader.”
To go through the over 5,000-page draft is a herculean feat, he said.
He said even as a technical expert on some of the subject matter, he finds it difficult to digest.
Johnson went on to say that the Department of Defense had undertaken numerous surveys to assess the marine habitats on Tinian and Pagan in 2013, but there was not a single notice to the public.
“DoD and their contractors came to our island, collected what they needed, and left all in secrecy,” he said.
Johnson said this was a chance to work with the people of the CNMI instead of sneaking around behind their backs.
Bruce Bateman, in his personal opinion, said that the proposed military action is incompatible with tourism.
Doris Drew said they have an alternative, “we can always say ‘no.’ ”
Kina Palacios asked, “Why us?”
She said bombing will reduce the island of Pagan to a distant memory.
Romulo Orsini characterized the CNMI and federal government relationship as one of friends.
“It hurts a lot,” he said as a friend.
He suggested that the U.S. has many allies and it has 50 states where DoD can do its bombing instead.
Ron Smith spoke on behalf of the MINA board and expressed its opposition to the plan.
Herman Cabrera revived the issue of pozzolan and how this could be game changer for the economy.
He said the bombing on Pagan will significantly impact the habitats of endangered species and will affect tourism.
“Let’s protect Pagan,” he said.
Several 6th grade students from Oleai Elementary School presented views on the issue and were united in the opinion that DoD should bomb the deserts instead.
Celine Orsini asked, “Please leave our precious Marianas alone.”
Northern Islands Mayor Jerome Aldan called for the protection of their historical, cultural and natural heritage.
Emma Perez, who recently returned “home” from the U.S., spoke on behalf of Chamorros living off island who pine to come home.
She said the military’s proposal is “unacceptable.”
She supports Alternative Zero.
Tanapag resident Pete Perez sees the destruction of the people and the culture.
For Perez, the military “does not care about us.”
“When they get these islands, it is all over,” he said.
Cinta Kaipat shares her longing for the island of Pagan where she spent her childhood and about which she has fond memories.
“I know what it’s like to live up there,” she said as she felt sorry for those who will not be able to “experience the magic” of living on Pagan if the military pushes ahead with its plans.
Liana Hofschneider, whose husband is a Tinian resident, talked about the high incidence of cancer on island.
For her, even the Alternative Zero is not acceptable.
What she wanted to find out is when the military will clean up the waste that has been there on Tinian for over 70 years now.
Bo Palacios read a comment allegedly made by Gen. David Bice saying, “We need to give them a deal they cannot refuse.”
Palacios said, “I cannot be bought. We will not be bought.”
Gus Kaipat, strummed his ukulele to sing his opposition to the plan, “No to destruction. No to bombs. No to live-fire training.”
Thomas Kiyu Villagomez, a landowner, was frustrated and said they should be given the freedom to do what they want with their land.
Former Rep. Cris Ogo said his relatives were incarcerated for eating fanihi.
He asked if the military were to be jailed too if they disturbed the habitat of the fruit bats?
Listening to the comments made by residents, Marine Corps Forces Pacific Executive Director Craig B. Whelden wanted to set the record straight.
He found the claim that the military was sneaking behind the people’s back to be inaccurate.
“There are some things that I heard tonight which I am not sure are accurate. For example, one of the speakers made a comment about us sneaking behind the backs of everybody. That is completely false,” said Whelden.
He said they notified the CNMI government of every surveys they conducted.
“In many cases we require the permission of the CNMI government to conduct surveys and oftentimes we have CNMI people participating with us on the surveys. It is too bad that some people think that we did it in an underhanded way,” said Whelden.
He said they are completely open.
He said they sent out letters to the mayors, to the governor, and governmental officials on each and every survey they conducted over the last two years.
He was pleased with the turnout at the Saipan Southern High School.
“I am glad we had a good turnout,” he said.
He said many came to express their views.
“That is exactly what the public hearings are for so we can hear what the people think about our proposal,” he said.
Those who would like to submit comments on the DEIS, may do so online or mail them to:
Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pacific
Attn: 09PA, Public Affairs Office
258 Makalapa Drive, Suite 100
JBPHH, HI 96860-3134.