The Pentagon plans to turn a small, volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean into a live-fire training ground for the U.S. military, although the residents of nearby islands object.
The military says its proposed action for the 18-square-mile Pagan Island in the Northern Marianas is necessary to help the U.S. Pacific Command maintain, equip, and train combat and humanitarian forces in the Western Pacific.
But advocacy groups are up in arms. “The impact of destroying Pagan is like the heartache most Americans would suffer from the destruction of Yosemite National Park,” said Peter Perez, an advocate for Chamorro issues.
Located in the Northern Marianas — a U.S. commonwealth territory — Pagan Island is one of the most biologically and geologically diverse islands in the area. It is to home to some threatened and endangered species, including the Marianas fruit bat and the Guam tree snail.
Pagan Island was once inhabited by the Chamorro people until Mount Pagan, the largest volcano in the Mariana Islands, erupted in 1981, forcing them to evacuate to another island in the archipelago. It had been home to the Chamorro people since the 1300s. They still consider Pagan their homeland and regularly visit the island, said Jerome Aldan, the mayor of the Northern Marianas. Many hope to return to the island someday, he said.
Northern Mariana Islands’ governor, Eloy Inos, has yet to the approve the Pentagon’s plan. If the proposal is not approved by local government, the U.S. government can invoke eminent domain and begin the exercises by 2017.
The U.S. military recently held three public meetings and has extended public commenting by mail and electronic form until Aug. 4.