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Planned military activities on Pagan may damage island’s historic character

MANY of the U.S. Department of Defense projects, including the proposed military training facilities on Pagan may impact the island’s historic character and its environmental landscape, former Department of Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Melvin Faisao said.

“I totally disagree with the U.S. Department of Defense’s scheme to utilize the record of decision as an established means of acquiring a constituted understanding or agreement between the CNMI and the U.S. DoD to define how the U.S. military will utilize the island of Pagan as a military exercise area,” he said, in his written comments at the second in a series of scoping meetings on the proposed military activities on Pagan.

Former DCCA Secretary Melvin Faisao recites his testimony against the proposed military training facilities on Pagan during the recent scoping meeting at Carolinian Utt in Garapan.  Photo by Alexie Villegas ZotomayorFormer DCCA Secretary Melvin Faisao recites his testimony against the proposed military training facilities on Pagan during the recent scoping meeting at Carolinian Utt in Garapan. Photo by Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

Speaking as a former State Historic Preservation officer, Faisao cited section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act that a U.S. government agency must consult with the CNMI Historic Preservation Office and other interested parties whenever it considers conducting a project that might affect historic properties.

He said Pagan and the surrounding waters are part of the Northern Mariana Islands as specified in section 1005 (b) as used in the covenant.

This means, Faisao said, that every action taken within the boundaries pursuant to U.S. Public Law 95-134 or U.S. Public Law 94-241 [48 USC 1801 et seq.] that has any kind of financial or other assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration, Department of the Interior or any other federal agency must be subject to consultation.

Faisao said the CNMI Historic Presentation Act similarly provides for agencies to seek permission of the HPO, whenever they propose to affect historic places in the Northern Mariana Islands.

“It is not a waste of time to subject such U.S. military projects to HPO review but technically there is no legal alternative to doing so — except via a programmatic agreement,” he said.

He explained that a programmatic agreement places a federal agency or agencies in compliance with section 106 on a programmatic basis, substituting for project-by-project compliance.

Such an agreement, he added, usually sets up a modified way of achieving section 106’s statutory purposes, tailored to the needs of a particular agency or situation, such an agreement can result in significant efficiencies.

The agreement should be signed by responsible federal agency or agencies, the HPO, other interested parties and, at its discretion, the advisory council on historic preservation, he said.

Faisao said the fundamental nature of the agreement is that it will provide a stipulation process, with the articulation of principles that will guide its interpretation.

“These are essentially principles of balanced respect for both the island of Pagan’s historic qualities and its role in the relevant provision of section 806 (a) of the Covenant, to establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Marians Islands in political union with the United States of America; and all the applicable provision of section 904 of the Covenant to establish a CNMI in political union with the U.S.,” he said.

The U.S., he said, under section 904 (b) shall provide assistance and facilitation to promote local tourism, and other economic and cultural interests that will boost the CNMI economy.

He cited three points the programmatic agreement could achieve: (1) there is no elimination of any wide range of routine, high or low impact projects on the island of Pagan from any review at all under section 106 by the HPO, unless the HPO explicitly requests the opportunity to consult about a particular project; (2) it specifies that the HPO has issued a blanket permit for such projects under the CNMI Historic Preservation Act while pledging the other agencies to cooperate with the HPO in meeting other obligations of the act or CNMI Public Law 3-39 or CNMI Constitution, and (3) it provides for simplified, expedited initial review of other projects on the island of Pagan, using a standard form.

Faisao said that it is anticipated that most proposed U.S. DoD projects will require only completion of this form, because the HPO and other CNMI collaborating agencies will be able to determine that such U.S. DoD projects have little potential for effect on any other places throughout Pagan.

He said that further consultation or other actions are required and the form will help put all parties on the same page as consultation begins.

Assuming general agreement on its terms, Faisao said he anticipated having the agreement ready for signatures in early 2014 after necessary consultation and public comment.

However, he said he would take the opportunity to state that the primary U.S. goals, based on military needs, were to have the area of CNMI become an unincorporated U.S. territory and to obtain land rights in the Northern Mariana Islands, where the U.S. wished to lease part or all of Tinian for a possible air base. The indigenous people of the CNMI, which the indigenous people of CNMI gave the U.S. government two-thirds of Tinian for U.S. military activities on March 24, 1979.