CNMI group opposing US Navy plans are not anti-military – lawyer

The lawyer for a Northern Marianas group that is challenging US Navy plans for the islands of Pagan and Tinian, says his clients are not anti-military.

Plans to use the islands as live-fire and bombing sites are linked to a proposed transfer of thousands of US marines to neighbouring Guam from Japan.

The lawsuit was filed by the environmental law organisation Earthjustice, on behalf of a number of Marianas citizen groups who believed the plans would devastate their islands. David Henkin (right) meets with Tinian residents concerned about proposed US military training on their island. The case is due to have an initial hearing in the District Court on August 9.

Earthjustice attorney David Henkin said the local communities fully understood the strategic importance of the Western Pacific.

"This case is not about whether the US military will be able to protect American interests and the interests of our allies in the Western Pacific," Mr Henkin said.

"It’s entirely about whether two communities are going to have to pay the price for the Navy having failed to disclose the full scope of the destructive activities that it’s proposing for the Northern Marianas islands and giving us some real options to go forward, sustainable, respectful ways to go forward.

"You do not save the village by burning it and that’s what the Navy proposes to do," he said.

Mr Henkin said the groups who they represent include families who have served in the US military so there is not a blanket objection to any type of military training.

He said the people of the CNMI just want the US military to be upfront and transparent.

"The people of Tinian, for example, were promised that the US military would establish a base there which would not only involve some low levels of training but would bring benefits to the community like a hospital and economic development.

"What they object to is turning the island into a warzone which would have catastrophic results on the island economy."

Mr Henkin said Earthjustice represent the Tinian Women’s Association who are concerned about their island’s future; the Guardians of Gani and Pagan Watch, which are groups made up of people in the CNMI with ancestral ties to the island of Pagan and who would like to return and re-establish a vibrant community as there was in the past.

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