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Navy sued over live-fire training plan in Pacific

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  • Japan Air Self-Defense Force airmen waved at residents of Pagan island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on Dec. 9, 2015 after dropping a package to the islanders as part of Operation Christmas Drop. Community members and an environmental group today sued the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense and the secretary of defense over a plan to turn two Pacific islands, including Pagan,into live-fire testing sites. (Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gonsier/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Community members and an environmental group today sued the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense and the secretary of defense over a plan to turn two Pacific islands into live-fire testing sites.

The plan calls for using the islands of Tinian and Pagan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for military war games.

The training would prevent Pagan’s native people from returning to their home island, which was evacuated 35 years ago after a volcanic eruption, and would disrupt communities on Tinian, according to Earthjustice attorneys, who are representing complainants including the Center for Biological Diversity and local community organizations.

The groups filed the lawsuit in federal court in Saipan.

The lawsuit says the National Environmental Policy Act requires the military to consider all of the training’s potential effects on the islands and surrounding communities.

Calls seeking comment from the Navy and Department of Defense were not immediately returned.

The Navy did not take into consideration the people involved or the wide-ranging environmental effects, according to the groups. They also allege the Navy failed to consider more suitable locations for the war games.

“The Navy’s decision would have devastating consequences for the people of Tinian and Pagan,” Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said.

Tinian is a small island in the Northern Marianas with about 3,000 residents, mostly low-income indigenous Chamorro people. The military already uses a small plot on the island for sniper training, according to the lawsuit.

Expanding training would expose residents to “high-decibel training noise, permanent loss of 15 percent of the island’s prime farmland soils, destruction of cultural and historic sites, and severe restrictions on access to traditional fishing grounds, cultural sites and recreational beaches,” the lawsuit says.

“When the Northern Marianas agreed to remain part of the United States, destroying the northern two-thirds of our island with live-fire training and bombing was never part of the deal,” Florine Hofschneider of the Tinian Women’s Association said in a statement. “We refuse to accept the Navy’s plans to subject our children to nearly constant bombardment.”

Pagan, meanwhile, would become a “militarized wasteland,” attorneys said.

The training would destroy native forests, coral reefs and wildlife on the remote volcanic island. And the indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch families who once called Pagan home would be prevented from returning, attorneys said.

“I spent many happy years of my childhood growing up on Pagan,” Cinta Kaipat of PaganWatch, one of the groups suing, said in a statement.

Kaipat said she has family members who were there when the volcano erupted in 1981 and had to flee.

“Many of us want to return and resettle Pagan,” Kaipat said. “For those who lived there, Pagan remains their homeland. We do not want to see it obliterated by the military.”

Earthjustice’s Henkin said that the military made the decision to move about 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam in 2010, then in 2013 they said they needed more space for training. A draft environmental impact statement was provided by the Navy in 2015, he said, and a final statement is expected in 2018.

In 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service asked University of Hawaii professor Michael Hadfield to conduct research on Pagan island. He and a group of eight colleagues spent about two weeks on the remote island taking inventory the island’s endemic plants and wildlife.

He said the team found many endemic species as well as endangered tree snails and fruit bats on the island, but furthermore noted that archeological sites prove that human habitation there dates back more than 2,000 years.

“It’s got a long history of connection to the people of the Mariana Islands,” Hadfield told The Associated Press in an interview in May. “I left with a really strong impression of a dramatically beautiful island, an island with a cultural history, an island with a lot of intact native biology. And my experience, of course in Hawaii, is that that kind of thing simply would not survive a massive military takeover, especially the kind of bombardment the Navy has in mind.”

The military has used other Pacific islands for testing in the past. The Navy used the Hawaiian island of Kahoolawe as a bombing range for decades starting in World War II. It later joined with the state and spent over $400 million on cleanup, but they didn’t finish the job.

Today, live grenades and bombs remain scattered across about a quarter of the 45-square-mile island and the barren island is mostly off-limits.

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  • Those Japanese airmen must be really LoLo if they are dropping packages on an island that has been uninhabited for 25 years, and if the navy has to shoot at something try someplace you really own like CA,TX,FL, etc.

  • Here we go again. More pure shibai from the dregs of the Earth Justice clan and anyone else who has followed their string of failures.

    Lets look at just one of the many in your face lies from Earth Justice. They say, “permanent loss of 15 percent of the island’s prime farmland soils” yet offer not one shred of credible evidence to back up their whine. Ok, we can look at the areas bombed and shelled during WWII in Europe. Not one area looks today like it did back then. And lets look at Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the A bomb devastated the cities. Nope, all real damage healed, land looks great today.

    So here we have proof the clowns at Earth Justice haven’t got a clue when they said, “permanent loss of 15 percent of the island’s prime farmland soils.” Which brings the question, what about all their other claims? Yes. All lies.

    • Hello, the expanded bombing area is defined, so if you use it for live fire you can’t use it for farming. So, the question is not about 50 years from now, it’s about now. And, “looks great today” really, so you can see the germs on food or bacteria in your body? Please go back to making your “willful” and “8th world” comments.

    • You can plan on where the impact area is going to be but you can’t prevent human error or ordnance malfunction from happening. You have a better chance at winning the lottery than expecting 100% of all ordnance to remain in the impact or buffer zone.

      Ask the farmers in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia how safe it is to farm on land that has been bombed. What happened decades ago is still injuring and killing people to this day. Throwing dirt on it or paving over it doesn’t make the problem go away.

  • Wait in line. Navy owes Honolulu big time for leaking fuel into the Halawa wells. Imagine polluting the water source that the military families depend on. Pilau.

  • Take one look at Kahoolawe and that will be the results if you open up another bombing range. There are already several active bombing ranges in the pacific that are still being used today, not all of them are US owned/leased. Several of those ranges have been severely neglected and have not been properly cleared according to service directives or host nation requirements due to lack of funding and manpower. One range in particular is Farrallon near Guam. The US has a lease to use that island as a bombing range. The lease will expire in 2075. How do I know this, it’s all public information found online if you know where to look. SA should submit a FOIA request to see when the last time that island was properly cleared.

    I’m all for keeping our troops trained. Are all of our ranges being actively used to their full potential? Are the ranges booked back to back for military training or are they being used by private companies for research and development which cuts into military training?
    Are all of the ranges being cleared in accordance with US and host nation requirements?

    Take care of the active ranges we already have and do not allow another island/ecosystem to be destroyed under the guise of training/readiness. There’s no turning back the destruction and devastation if this range is allowed to open. Ask the people living near range W174 (Idesuna Shima) and W176 (Tori Shima) in the Ryukyu islands how they feel about two of their islands being used for bombing ranges and you’ll probably get the same reply as the folks trying to stop this from happening to Pagan.

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