BY ALEXIE VILLEGAS ZOTOMAYOR
Associate editor / reporter
Saipan, CNMI, USA
OVER what they consider potential irreparable harm to the environment and the people, the indigenous people of the islands through the Northern Marianas Descent Corporation passed a resolution opposing the U.S. military proposal to develop live-fire ranges and training areas on Pagan island.
The resolution, signed by NMD Corp. officers — Ana S. Teregeyo, president; Karl T. Reyes, vice president; Daniel O. Quitugua, secretary; and Rose Taman Ada-Hocog, treasurer —on May 10, “unequivocally oppose[s] and unanimously disapprove[s] the proposed U.S. military development and tactical exercise activities on our culturally, historically, and environmentally rich, serene and irreplaceable homeland island of Pagan unlike any other on earth.”
For the NMD’s, the proposed military development will “irreparably” impact and devastate the fragile environmental, historic, cultural and human resources not only of Pagan “but of the entire Northern Mariana Island archipelago.”
They also believe that the proposed military development undermines and violates provisions of Article I, Section 105 and Article VIII, Sections 805 and 806 of the Covenant.
They recommend that the U.S. military “steadfastly take into consideration and unequivocally, unmistakably, unambiguously, and unwaveringly respect and honor the intent and spirit of the said articles and sections of the Covenant as mutually agreed to by the U.S. government and the CNMI government.”
The NMD’s also highlighted that an integral and requisite element of the public scoping process for any proposed impact of and by the U.S. military’s actions is “unconditional compliance” with the Section 106 process of the National Historic and Preservation Act.
For the NMD’s, the U.S. military’s strict adherence to the Section 106 process means the U.S. military “must unequivocally comply to prevent potential adverse effects on historic properties such as archeological sites, historic buildings and structures, and traditional cultural properties considered sacred to the heritage and traditions of indigenous Chamorros and Carolinians.”
In opposing the proposal by the U.S. military to use Pagan for joint military exercises, the NMD’s pointed out that the military has historically conducted “covert operations” — keeping secret what they use or plan to use that may be harmful to the environment and the people.
They said the military left behind storage facilities that held tons of polychlorinated byphenyls.
In early 2000, Variety reported that several sites near the old cemetery in Tanapag had between 1 ppm and 2 ppm of PCBs. The Army Corps of Engineers and contractor Environmental Chemical Corp. subsequently excavated the sites and started the cleanup.
For the NMDs, these leftover PCB materials and fuel, have over the decades caused contamination on the island.
They also cited unexploded ordnance and ammunition that have posed a danger to residents and the environment.
Former House Speaker Pedro R. Deleon Guerrero, in his personal opinion and as a person of Northern Marianas descent himself, supports the NMD Corporation resolution.
“I am very much concerned about those things,” he said referring to the dangers cited by the NMD resolution.
As the NMDs are wary that Pagan or Tinian may repeat the incidents in Puerto Rico and in Hawaii, they would like to consider reserving the islands for future generations of people of Northern Marianas descent.
Deleon Guerrero, referring to the resolution, cited the incidents on Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island and the Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii’s Big Island and Schofield ranges on Oahu.
He recalled that Puerto Ricans and residents of Vieques Island called for the immediate cessation of bombing.
Deleon Guerrero also pointed out “that the military is known to keep secrets, not really being truthful about the types of weaponry and other things that may be harmful to the immediate environment and the people.”
Deleon Guerrero says “The military should be honest.”
He, along with the NMDs, decried how the military proposal for Pagan would add more restrictions including those on “miles and miles of air space that may be detrimental to the economic development of the island.”
As to Tinian, Deleon Guerrero said the people back in the 1970s were promised a military economy.
“Where is that military economy? For the longest time, they have not contributed to the economy,” he said.
Deleon Guerrero also emphasized the need to think about the needs of the islands in terms of supporting future generations.
“For these reasons, I am not in favor until the military can prove otherwise,” said Deleon Guerrero.
The U.S. military is proposing combined-level training alternatives on Pagan and intends to use the entire island with a full spectrum of weapons and joint-training activities.
Of the 14 CNMI islands, the U.S. military sees the combination of Pagan and Tinian as meeting the 42 unfilled training requirements.
Based on a military assessment, development of combined-level ranges and training areas on Pagan is feasible.
The U.S. military also hopes to use Pagan’s many beaches to support amphibious-operations training.
They also see that the airspace surrounding Pagan is unencumbered by flight restrictions.
It also meets the mobility-corridors criterion.
With no population, Pagan is seen capable of supporting naval-gunfire training and aviation-ordnance-delivery training.