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Northern Islands mayor’s office sends concerns about Pagan militarization plans to Honolulu

THE Northern Islands Mayor’s Office has joined in the public awareness and education campaign about military activities in the Pacific, sending information as far as Honolulu.

In its communications to Honolulu, the mayor’s office said that during the recent scoping meetings few familiar with the planned militarization of Pagan, an island north of Saipan.

U.S. military and Naval Facilities Engineering Command personnel field questions from the local residents during the last scoping meeting held in Garapan.  Photo by AlexieVillegas ZotomayorU.S. military and Naval Facilities Engineering Command personnel field questions from the local residents during the last scoping meeting held in Garapan. Photo by AlexieVillegas Zotomayor

The military is presently conducting live air strikes or live bomb training at Farallon De Medinilla, the mayor’s office said.

It added the plan for Pagan will include the entire island and the dislocation of residents, including the over 3,000 wild cattle roaming freely along with over 2,000 wild boar and an estimated 3,000 Mariana fruit bats, thousands of giant coconut crabs, giant lobsters, dolphins, prized fish like onaga and gindai, white tuna, big-eye tuna, whales, an assortment of birds —native and introduced, native trees and plants.

It will also affect the estimated $10 billion worth of pozzolan, the “pristine” and “uncontaminated” hot spring and black sand beaches, old historic villages, and other natural resources, the mayor’s office said.

“You see, the planned militarization of Pagan Island, an island 200 miles north of Saipan, is similar to the Big Island’s Pahokuloa Army Training,” the mayor’s office added.

The lease, though 14 years from expiration, is curiously being renegotiated by the U.S. Army for longer and perhaps better terms in the military’s favor, the mayor’s statement said.

Similarly, it added the planned Pagan militarization is a replay of the live-fire bomb training in Kahoolawe (Maui) which was abandoned, but is now the focus of massive clean-up, rehabilitation, and restoration efforts by Hawaiians.

“Recall how Saipan’s Puerto Rico dump was closed and abandoned too due to undisclosed toxic elements buried after WWII on Saipan and I am afraid this may likely happen on the pristine Pagan Island,” the mayor’s office said.

The mayor’s office said the likelihood to that redeveloping and resettling Pagan Island will scrapped, and the remaining residents there relocated, are not a remote possibility now.

Former Pagan residents who are residing on Saipan now want to voice their opposition to the plan of joint military training by the U.S. and its allied forces on Pagan.

The Department of the Navy and Department of Defense want to establish a series of live-fire and maneuver ranges and training areas, or RTAs, in the CNMI.

In a Notice of Intent published in the Federal Register, the DoD stated that all the preliminary alternatives for combined-level training proposed using the “entire” island of Pagan for military purposes.

Northern Islands mayor’s office program manager Jerome Aldan and former Rep. William Torres, one of the development planners in the 2012 resettlement and redevelopment summit, explained to Northern Islands residents the effects of “a continuous and uninterrupted training schedule for U.S. forces and its allies” on Pagan.

In one of a series of pre-scoping meetings, participants were told about the types of training carried out in Warfare Functional Areas which include air warfare, amphibious warfare, surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare, strike warfare, electronic warfare and naval special warfare.

Aldan told Variety the purpose of the meetings was to educate residents on the proposed combined unit military training activities that would be taking place on Pagan.

They would also share preliminary areas of concern from local regulatory agencies, he said.

DoD also stated that the existing ranges and training areas and support facilities in the Western Pacific, particularly in the CNMI, are insufficient to support Pacific Command forces.

The expansion of existing RTAs and construction of new RTAs will satisfy identified training deficiencies for the U.S. Pacific Command forces that are based in or regularly train in the CNMI.

“These RTAs will be available to US forces and their allies on a continuous and uninterrupted schedule,” it noted in the Federal Register.

It added that the RTAs are needed to support ongoing operational requirements, changes to U.S. force structure and geographic positioning of forces, and U.S. training relationships with allied nations.

In an interview, newly appointed Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council member Diego Kaipat said the U.S. military should help establish the needed infrastructure and avoid conducting live-fire training on the island.

He expressed fears that Pagan will become like Bikini Atoll.

Kaipat said many residents would still like to return to Pagan.

Once the military takes over Pagan, the residents will no longer get it back, he said.

He urged the Legislature to help prevent the U.S. military from taking over Pagan for joint military training.

Aldan said the common sentiment of the residents is that the government must look into the proposed military training carefully and not just agree to it.

“They have been waiting for centuries for titles to the lands they have been occupying and have not received the said titles,” he said.

Residents are concerned that Pagan and all Northern Islands will be closed and become inaccessible to the people.

Aldan asked what is to happen to the teeming fishing communities around Pagan and the entire Northern Islands, or for that matter what is to happen to their culture and history, and when will they ever come home to Pagan.

Aldan also had other questions: “Will there ever be resettlement or redevelopment in Pagan? Will Public Law 16-50 ever be implemented? Will passenger cruise ships dock at Pagan in 2014? Will an eco-tourism project planned for Pagan be realized?”

He also asked what will the outcome be of the NMC-Cooperative Research Education and Extension Service agricultural development master plan and what will happen to Pagan’s fresh water lake?

“To give Pagan away in an easy fashion would be an injustice to the natives. They have sacrificed a lot on these islands, yet the government has repeatedly failed to grant them what is rightfully theirs—homesteads,” he said. “Instead residents are often thought of as squatters by their own government.”

Aldan said the residents of Pagan did not want to leave their island but were forcibly evacuated through a government edict which left them with no choice.

Aldan said there were other sentimental issues raised: natural resources and the historical and cultural values of Pagan Island, the natural landscape and seascape of the pozzolan-rich island with over 3,000 free-roaming cattle and wild boar, the pageantry of fruit bat colonies and giant-size coconut crabs, colonies of native and introduced bird species and planktons would be destroyed if the local government allowed the military to conduct live-fire training in the water, on land and in the skies, he said.

He said the residents want to work with the military in partnership but they will not support live-fire training and activities on Pagan.

Aldan said they can’t imagine a takeover of the island or the archipelago.

He also relayed the former residents’ interest in acquiring land through the existing laws of the Northern Islands that have not been implemented to date.

Aldan said Pagan has been repeatedly surveyed, studied, settled, developed, evacuated, and residents dislocated by the government they depended on to protect and safeguard them.

One of the residents of Pagan mentioned that he joined a group of government officials prior to the 1981 volcanic eruption and conducted land surveys of almost all areas in North Pagan.

Aldan said that the resident doubted that those surveys are still there.

“It seems that they have disappeared, vanished into thin air or left to burn in the lava after the eruption in 1981. It is sad that the government keeps talking about surveys, but those surveys have been completed but the government has not implemented the homestead program in the Northern Islands,” he said.

The comment period on the proposed military training areas on Pagan and Tinian is now extended to May 13, 2013.

Check the Northern Islands Website at