Military wants lawsuit over Mariana Islands proposal tossed

HAGATNA, Guam — The U.S. military is seeking to have a federal lawsuit challenging its plans to expand operations on the Mariana Islands dismissed.

The Department of Defense claims the court does not have the authority to question the $8 billion international agreement that will move as many as 5,000 U.S. Marines from Japan to the Marianas in Dededo, Guam, The Pacific Daily News reported ( Monday. The military also plans to use some islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for training.

Earthjustice filed its lawsuit in July 2016 on behalf of several groups opposed to the military training.

The lawsuit says the U.S. Navy failed to evaluate the environmental impacts of training on Tinian and Pagan islands and did not consider alternate locations outside the Mariana Islands "where the Marines could accomplish their mission with fewer adverse impacts."

Earthjustice claims communities on Tinian would be subjected to high-decibel noise and have restricted access to fishing grounds, cultural sites and recreational beaches as a result of the military training. Pagan would be the target of ship-to-shore naval bombardment, which would destroy native forests and coral reefs, according to the lawsuit.

The other groups involved in the lawsuit include the Tinian Women's Association, PaganWatch, the Center for Biological Diversity and Guardians of Gani, a nonprofit established to protect "Gani," which refers to the Mariana Islands north of Saipan.

The military issued a response to the complaint Friday saying the court should dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.

"The decision to relocate the Marines from Okinawa to Guam is a 'political decision already made' by the United States Secretaries of State and Defense through a 2006 commitment to the Government of Japan, and a binding international agreement signed by the United States Secretary of State and Japan's Foreign Minister in 2009," the military's response states. "Plaintiffs point to no case in which a court has exercised jurisdiction to direct an Executive Branch agency to reconsider a course of Executive action that is the subject of a binding international agreement."

The military added that it is premature to challenge the proposed training activity in the Northern Mariana Islands because related environmental impact studies are ongoing and the training "may never be approved at all."

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