A judge’s decision casts doubt on the Marine Corps’ plans to move Marines from Okinawa to Guam and to conduct more live-fire training in the Northern Mariana Islands.
Following years of local opposition and protests, U.S. District Judge Ramona Manglona denied the U.S. government’s request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Navy plans to move 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam and conduct live-fire training on the islands of Tinian and Pagan.
The suit, filed in July 2016 by Earthjustice on behalf of local opposition groups, argues that the Navy failed to consider all the impacts associated with the plan in a single Environmental Impact Statement. It asked the court to toss out the 2010 and 2015 records of decision green-lighting the buildup, which could hinder the military’s plans for Guam as well.
Earthjustice, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit environmental law organization.
The judge dismissed a related claim that the Navy should have considered alternate stationing and training locations for Marines relocating from Japan.
But the lawsuit over whether the Navy violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider all of the impacts of the relocation and training in a single Environmental Impact Statement will continue.
Pacific Daily News reported on Manglona’s decision:
“Plaintiffs allege that defendants violated (the National Environmental Policy Act) and the (Administrative Procedure Act) by failing to consider the connected actions of relocation of Marines to Guam and the construction and operation of live-fire ranges on Tinian and Pagan in a single EIS, or, alternatively, by failing to consider the cumulative impacts of the relocation and construction of live-fire training ranges in a single EIS,” she wrote, in dismissing the government’s motion.
“We are thankful the judge reaffirmed that the military is not above the law,” said David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney leading the case, in a news release. “Before deciding to move thousands of Marines to the Marianas, they should have considered the devastation to Tinian and Pågan from the live-fire training those Marines will need to perform their mission. The people of Tinian and Pågan will now have their day in court to challenge this existential threat to their homelands.”
A little more than 3,00 people live on Tinian. Pagan has been mostly uninhabited since 1981, when a volcano eruption forced a mass evacuation, but many residents would like to return, according to Earthjustice.
“The training proposed for Tinian and Pågan would be intense and destructive,” Eathjustice said in the news release. “War games would include artillery, mortars, rockets, amphibious assaults, attack helicopters and warplanes [and], on Pågan, ship-to-shore naval bombardment. The training would destroy native forests and coral reefs, kill native wildlife — including endangered species — and destroy prime farmland. “
Two-thirds of Tinian, the uninhabited island of Farallon de Medinilla and parts of Tanapag are now used for live-fire training and bombing. The military wants to expand live-fire training and take over the entire island of Pågan for a variety of Navy and Marine combat training.
About 2,500 Marines are expected to move to a proposed Marine Corps base in Guam in 2021, with the rest arriving by 2026.
The original plan was approved in 2010, but after residents complained about the size and rapidity of the buildup, the military scaled back its plans. In September 2015, the revised plan was approved in a second record of decision.