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Lawmaker says military announcement ‘very alarming’

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REPRESENTATIVE Sheila Babauta finds “very alarming” the recent announcement of the U.S. Department of the Navy.

On Thursday evening, the Navy said it has opted for Alternative 2, which allows it to continue training within the Marianas.

Alternative 2, the Navy stated, "will allow the Navy, other U.S. military services, and the U.S. Coast Guard to fully meet current and future training and testing requirements."

The Navy said it made its final decision after taking into consideration its strategic and operational needs, as well as the potential impacts the training and testing activities may have on human, natural, and cultural environments.

It said it has also taken into consideration comments from elected officials, government agencies, organizations, and the public.

The Navy said it is "committed to being a good steward of the environment and will continue to implement mitigation measures to avoid or reduce potential environmental impacts from training and testing."

It added that it will continue to work with its valued partners in the CNMI and Guam to share information and address concerns.

Babauta is one of the main sponsors of House Joint Resolution 21-8, which urges Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to oppose an increase in “destructive military presence” in the Commonwealth.

The joint resolution is currently with the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs.

"I am just alarmed,” Babauta said on Friday. "It is very alarming. I am concerned. It is frustrating. This process hasn't been easy. The communication lines were not as easily accessible as they claim.”

She added, "The harm and irreversible damage to our environment is really my main concern because that, at the end of the day, will impact our sustainability as a people here in the Marianas."

Isa Arriola of Our Common Wealth 670, which supports H.J.R. 21-8, for her part, said, "I'm sifting through the document now to see that it's the most extreme alternative. It's really disconcerting."

"Just looking over what they're considering and what they plan to do now, it's more fleet exercises, more unit level activities that they [say] may come up as a result of emerging world events that require more readiness on their part,” she said. “What that even means is something we're trying to see if we need to sift through as a group.”

Arriola said a reoccurring issue has been trying to put these "long technical documents" into layman's terms.

"The other disconcerting portion is that they're having more anti-submarine warfare exercises. They're talking about a 50% increase in unit level events, [including surface]-to-air exercises. We have no clue how that's going to impact us for generations to come."

Arriola said the Navy's final decision would also allow for other training by other military services in CNMI waters.

"Those exercises, again, are very disconcerting from the environmental side. A lot of it seems very up in the air," she said.

Rep. Babauta and Arriola said they will continue to reach out to the House Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs Chairman Luis John Castro, as well as the Bureau of Military Affairs director Glenna Reyes to "see how we can all work together to really communicate our serious concerns to the Navy."

"We understand that comments were received from the community, but as you can see, in the record of decision, the Navy's response was almost a blatant disregard for our extreme worries for our environment," said Babauta.

"How can you even deny the harm and ignore what detrimental effect [this] will have on our environment, our waters, our air in restricting the airspace and the sea space? How will that impact our fishermen or fisherwomen? How will that impact commerce, travel, [and] mobility for us native people and visitors? It's a lot to take in."

She added, "Understanding is really key. We need to help one another understand what this means for the Commonwealth. There are thousands of pages that have been amended [and] terminology that has been changed, and so it's time, really, for us to come together.”

Arriola said in terms of regulatory language, the record of decision, or ROD, from a military standpoint, forecloses conversations about the environment.

However, she said, Our Common Wealth 670 sees this as "an opportunity to open more discussion."

"There were really excellent comments that were submitted by the public, and I think we deserve better answers," she said.

"That's our next step: mobilizing the public, creating education, creating more awareness, despite the fact that this might be a record of decision… It can be the beginning of further conversation."

Babauta and Arriola encourage the general public to follow Our Common Wealth 670 on Facebook for more information and updates regarding this matter.

Babauta said members of the public should reach out to their leaders.

"Let them know that this is something that is important to you. I think that we, as a community, really need to stay on top of this topic because it has an overall impact on our everyday lives," she said.

"This will impact tourism, commerce, our quality of life in general, our health and our welfare as a community. The sense of urgency is there."

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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