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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Blown out of proportion?

So I heard this comment: “The Navy has been conducting this underwater detonation on Guam on a regular basis, why is this an issue all of a sudden? This is blown out of proportion.”

Why this has never been an issue before is because it has always been downplayed as a regular routine — announced in a nonchalant fashion.

Guamanians have exploded in anger when they learned of the Navy’s plan to detonate explosives at outer Apra Harbor originally scheduled for April 27 and 28. The original notice was posted on the Federal Register on April 21. It was a Friday; everyone was getting ready for the weekend barbecue.

What probably riled up the community more than the training itself was the Coast Guard’s attempt to skirt the public commenting process “due to time constraints.” The Coast Guard said it received a notice of the Navy’s operation “only 49 days” before the scheduled training, and at this point public comment procedures were deemed “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”

The natural question was, “what’s the hurry?”

To dismiss the public commenting process as “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest” is contrary to the public interest. Consider the fact that, by the Coast Guard’s own admission, there is an “inherent danger” associated with this operation that poses “potential hazards within a 700-yard radius above and below the surface on April 27 and a 1,400-yard radius above and below the surface on April 28.”

The Navy has since pushed back the operation to May 18 and reduced its length to just one day, for eight hours instead of the original 16 for two days. The Joint Region Marianas clarified that the magnitude of the explosion would not be as huge as the image that horrified the protesters on social media. The Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit, according to the JRM, “will detonate four separate 1.25-pound explosives beneath the water’s surface away from coral and on a sandy bottom.”

Documents available to the public are usually sanitized — bereft of details about the perils that come with military operations. According to the Navy’s Naval Weapons Engineering Course syllabus, explosive detonations underwater “create shock waves in a similar manner to explosions in air” and there is no guarantee that “there are no effects from underwater shock waves.”

Maybe at this juncture the underwater explosion will not harm the marine life in the testing area anymore — because they are probably all dead. Turns out the Navy has been detonating explosives at Apra Harbor for decades. The earliest notice retrievable from online database was issued by the Navy in 1994. The notice required that the Navy submit an annual report listing the number of turtles and other marine resources that were “disturbed, injured and killed” during the operation.

Guam senators eventually discovered that underwater detonations have been permitted under the 2015 Record of Decision for the MITT Final Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement, allowing the Navy to conduct an average of nearly 12,580 detonations of various magnitudes per year for five years, and 81,962 takings of 26 different marine mammal species per year for five years. “Even if they say these underwater explosions are minor, cumulatively and over time this is just too much of a burden on our land and our waters,” Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje said.

It is the combination of military arrogance and the community’s obliviousness that allows these destructions to happen under our noses.

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Authority approved the U.S. Navy’ a final rule on the expansion of bombing range at Farallon de Medinilla, a tiny island located 45 nautical miles north of Saipan. The military training range has been expanded—effective June 22 — to support the use of advanced weapons systems and accommodate military training scenarios using air-to-ground ordnance delivery, naval gunfire and lasers. The Navy went ahead with the FDM bombing range expansion because “no comments were received” after it was posted on the Federal Register on Aug, 25, 2015. Who reads the Federal Register?

Announcements about military exercises typically come out as a brief and carefully written press release. Just so we can’t say they are doing this behind our back. It is the job of the Navy’s communication office to keep the community calm, leading us to utter complacence. Now it’s time we pay attention.

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