SAIPAN - Press secretary Kevin Bautista said the CNMI Joint Military Training Plan has been in "abeyance" since 2017.

"Two years ago, Gov. (Ralph) Torres and Assistant Secretary (of Defense Lucian) Niemeyer had a positive and productive meeting regarding the various issues regarding military activities in the CNMI," Bautista said. "In that meeting, the governor proposed that the CNMI government and the military suspend discussions regarding the CJMT on Tinian and Pagan and focus their collective energy and attention on the construction and implementation of the Air Force Divert Activities and Exercises program on Tinian. DOD then agreed with Gov. Torres' position and request."

However, recent Navy and Marine Corps documents – including an April 30 memorandum from Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and a December 2018 Marine Corps Defense Policy Review Initiative – state that the U.S. military intends to implement the CJMT as soon as 2024, regardless of the lack of input from CNMI government.

Rescinded after public outcry

The CJMT, which would create live-fire training ranges on Tinian and Pagan, was rescinded "for revision" in February 2016 after its initial presentation to the CNMI sparked public outcry and the submission of nearly 30,000 comments on the plan's draft Environmental Impact Statement.

However, references to the CJMT made in military documents as recently as late April indicate that few major revisions to the plan are being made; training ranges on Tinian will involve weaponry destructive enough to require restricted airspace above the island, as will be the case for Pagan, which the Navy expects to lease.

"When Gov. Torres requested to place CJMT discussions in abeyance in 2017, it was to ensure that a proper engagement protocol was agreed by both parties on all military activities in the CNMI," said Bautista. He added that the governor intended to ensure that, by putting the CJMT in abeyance, "focus would be on the divert program and its benefits for the people of Tinian and the Marianas."

Bautista said "there has not been any formal agreement by either party" to take CJMT discussions out of abeyance.

'Duty to the people of our islands'

"While the Divert Airfield Lease Agreement has been signed, ongoing discussions remain about steps moving forward on its construction and implementation, as well as infrastructure improvements and community benefits for the people of Tinian and the Marianas," he said.

"The governor emphasized back then and continues today that he and members of our Legislature understand the significance these decisions have on the culture, the environment and the quality of life for our people. This sense of duty to the people of our islands will continue to guide discussions forward."