Navy Sued Over Live-Fire Plans On Pacific Islands

Jul 29, 2016

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A coalition of community and environmental groups are challenging the Navy on plans to use two Pacific islands for bombing and live-fire training. The lawsuit was filed in Saipan. HPR’s Molly Solomon explains.

The two islands in question are Pagan and Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands. That’s where the Navy is proposing a military test site.

In a draft environmental impact statement issued last year, the Navy included plans for high-impact training and bombing practice. Attorney David Henkin is with Earthjustice, one of the groups behind the lawsuit. He says these activities would have devastating impacts on the island’s native ecosystem and wildlife.

“We’re talking about dropping 2,000 pound bombs and shelling that island from naval ships with five inch projectiles. We’re talking about the use of artillery, mortars, and rockets,” said Henkin. “I mean we’re really talking about turning these islands into major centers of warfare.”

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The plan would also prevent former residents of Pagan from returning to their ancestral homes. The island was evacuated in 1981 after a volcanic eruption, forcing many families to flee.

“It’s very upsetting to the people who’ve been waiting literally for generations to get back,” said Peter Perez, who co-founded the group PaganWatch, another group which is part of the lawsuit challenging the Navy. Perez now lives in Saipan, but has roots in Pagan. His great grandfather was once the mayor of that island.

“Many people here have a relative who was born on Pagan or have relatives who have history there,” said Perez. “So it is a long time occupied island with a huge amount of historic and cultural interest.”

The lawsuit claims the Navy failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. They argue the Navy should have considered alternate locations for training in their environmental impact statement.

The Navy did not respond to requests for comment and referred the issue to the U.S. Department of Justice. Additional analysis on the environmental impacts of bombing Tinian and Pagan are underway, with a new report expected next year.