Federal lawsuit filed over live-fire training in NMI - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Federal lawsuit filed over live-fire training in NMI

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It's happened more than once, but could the military buildup be delayed even more? It remains to be seen as a federal lawsuit has been filed in the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands over environmental concerns.

While they plan to transfer thousands marines from Okinawa to Guam, the Navy's decision would have devastating consequences for the people of the islands of Tinian and Pagan. That's according to David Henkin, the lead attorney for a federal lawsuit filed over the military buildup. "And the Navy has put the cart before the horse, they have already made a decision to do the permanent stationing on Guam. They're proceeding with efforts to make that a reality, to cast the dye, to have that just be a fact on the ground and they've deferred and really kicked the can down the road several years in terms of looking at the affects of that in the Northern Marianas would be," he explained.

Henkin is an attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental organization. He filed the lawsuit last week with the US District Court for the NMI on behalf of the Tinian Women's Association, Guardians of Gani, PaganWatch and the Center for Biological Diversity. "We believe very strongly that the proposal to conduct highly destructive live-fire training on Tinian and Pagan is ill-advised - that you don't save the village by burning it, and that's essentially what the navy is proposing to do. They're going to bombard the island of pagan and prevent families with generations of long historic and family ties to ever to return and turn Tinian into a war zone that will make it just oppressive for the people of that island to remain there, we think there's a better way," he said.

As part of the Marines' relocation to Guam, live-fire training is set to be conducted on islands of Tinian and Pagan. The lawsuit states that construction of the proposed training facilities would kill native wildlife, whereas Tinian's population would be subjected to high-decibel training noise, destruction of cultural and historical sites and restrictions on access to traditional fishing grounds. Henkin says the Navy was required but failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by not considering all the impacts associated with the relocation and training in a single environmental impact statement. They also didn't evaluate alternative training locations outside the Mariana Islands that would accomplish the marine's mission with far fewer environmental impacts.

And while he's aware of efforts on Guam over concerns with the buildup, Henkin says he hasn't been contacted by anyone on Guam to become a part of the lawsuit. "The Navy cannot lawfully make a decision to move marines to Guam and to train them in the Northern Marianas until they've completed the environmental review and until they've looked at alternate ways of accomplishing that mission, that might here have environmental affects," he added.

As part of the lawsuit, they are asking the court to set aside the 2010 and 2015 Records of Decision regarding the relocation of Marines. Henkin says the government has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

Victoria Leon Guerrero from Our Islands Are Sacred says the group has long opposed the use of Pagan and Tinian for live-fire training. She agrees with the lawsuit that this would be destructive for the islands. Joint Region Marianas had no comment on the pending litigation.

The Governor's Office is holding on comment until they receive more information.

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