[Coral-List] Majuro coral mining

Dean Jacobson atolldino at yahoo.com
Thu Mar 29 22:34:00 EDT 2012

The US embassy is controling access to the RMI from US agencies (except, I guess from the FAA) and I find that the ambassador and the DCM are acting a bit hostile to me.  This may be to your liking, or maybe not.  Below is a note I sent today to the embassy, I would welcome your thoughts of the role of Order 5050.4B and EO 12114 in the ARFF and RSA projects... do they apply?
Deborah showed me the short note she sent to the FAA meeting with Senators DeBrum and Muller in Guam recently (perhaps the note was forwarded soon after), I noticed that no mention was made of the fact that approval of the reservoir reef mining by PII was made without any public hearing, EA, EIA, and the EPA board of directors refused to even look for 5 minutes at the reef photographs I provided them.  This is not right, and it does not abide by the requirements of Order 5050.4B.
I also noticed that Jerry Kramer accused me in his letter (in the Appendix) in effect that I am an enemy of public safety, a line repeated by Phillip Muller and quoted in the local press.  I hope you don't share this view... it is not credible.  BTW, PII's excavator was driven form the reservoir reef site to the barge to offload more revetment rock.  During the last km and a half the road was damaged by the tractor treads.
Dean Jacobson
To: Ambassador Campbell and DCM Doug Carey
From: Dean Jacobson, Ph.D. College of the Marshall Islands
This is an attempt at reconciliation.  I sense a Catch-22.  I was told that it is inappropriate for any US-RMI discussions (including that originating from the Coral Reef Task force, but not from the FAA, I gather) occur without the permission of the US embassy.  At the same time, Ambassador Campbell tells me that the embassy is not involved in considering any laws that may apply to the FAA-funded Majuro Airport projects.  Finally, I am told that it is inappropriate for the US embassy to be involved in the FAA-funded airport construction projects, that these projects are entirely the RMI’s responsibility.  (Concerning laws, at a time when I was at risk of being deported, DCM Doug Carey felt it necessary to warn me not to violate any RMI laws).  However, it is obvious to local Nitijela watchers that the largest and most economically powerful company on Majuro, the one promoting the reef mining option, is largely driving the agenda.  This is not
 an observation spun from conspiratorial fantasy, it is a widely accepted and well documented fact.  As such, the process pursued by the RMI has been deficient in environmental safeguards.  The rules or regulations (“law”) that I believe apply, written to insure the existence of such environmental safeguards, include the following from FAA’s Order 5050.4B:
5a. Instructions to FAA personnel. This Order directs ARP personnel to carefully consider and weigh the environmental impacts of Federal actions and their reasonable alternatives. The evaluation used to do so must employ an interdisciplinary approach and occur in a timely, efficient, and comprehensive manner. This Order directs FAA personnel to involve other Federal agencies, State and local agencies, agencies and officials having expertise on environmental resources and the affected or interested public in this process. 
208. AIRPORT ACTIONS SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECTING A FOREIGN COUNTRY. When a proposed action is under the jurisdiction of the United States, NEPA requires analysis and disclosure of trans-boundary impacts.3 FAA must comply with Executive Order 12114, Environmental Effects Abroad of Major Federal Actions, dated January 4, 1979, when a major Federal action may cause significant environmental effects on a foreign country. 
a. General. The Executive Order requires each Federal agency to set up internal procedures to address major Federal actions significantly affecting the environment outside the geographical borders of the United States, its territories, and possessions. The Executive Order applies when the affected nation does not join in or have any involvement in the action. The Executive Order: 
(1) Heightens the approving FAA official’s awareness of and interest in a foreign country’s environmental concerns. 
(2) Ensures the approving FAA official considers a proposed action’s significant environmental effects on a foreign country during FAA’s decision making process. and 
(3) Promotes environmental cooperationbetween the United States and the affected country. 
There are detailed instructions on how EAs or EIA are to be conducted, mitigation requirements and much more.
The complete text of Order 5050.4b can be found at:
I believe the destruction of hundreds of meters of coral reef and a very large reclamation is a major action, significantly affecting the RMI (of course, some local politicians may not agree).  I have been told that the RSA project is the largest construction project on Majuro since the airport was originally constructed.
Section 208 1-3 clearly indicates that environmental cooperation is a priority (Ron Simpson told me that he considers the FAA to be environmentally sensitive), yet the embassy does not appear to provide much room for this sort of cooperation, particularly when the details of the environment in question, the lagoon coral reefs near airport and reservoir,  have so are been adequately described and characterized by a single person, with the requisite specialized knowledge of coral ecology, who happens to be a US citizen with a good resume and professional credibility, and who has so far not been allowed to meet with the embassy to discuss the latest plans to mine coral reefs in support of the RSA project, despite repeated attempts to do so.  Please pardon my opinion, but this strikes me as petty.
It has been made clear that the US embassy prefers and indeed requires that this specialist (myself) adopt a less aggressive manner and strategy, perhaps becoming a mild-mannered supplicant.  This would not have sufficed to prevent the destruction of the reef at the west end of the runway, adjacent to the RSA footprint.  I am not an aggressive person, but PII’s aggressive strategy to mine reefs, something for which they are justly famous, has forced this strategy on me.  I abhor shrillness, far preferring calm, reasoned discussion.  I am not an extremist: I eat beef, I watch TV, and drink coffee with milk and sugar.
I am requesting, with all due respect and humility, that the US embassy soften its position a little, and believe my pledge that (as a passionate defender of coral reefs, not only for their own sake but for the food and coastal security they provide), I can be calm, courteous and seek a reasonable, moderate course of action; I will for example support limited coral destruction, i.e. in constructing a channel for ocean access from the lagoon, a proposal made in the Airport Master Plan.  I also request that the embassy consider acknowledging the following points, to trust that I am being truthful and accurate:
(I am in no way suggesting that the US can get involved in local politics, but the following points influence the ability to avoid unnecessary environmental damage to Majuro’s coral reefs)
1.        The “Picnic area” reef at the west end of the airport has enough biological value to be protected from mining activities, yet because this value was not accurately reflected in the environmental assessment done by Leo A Daley, this reef was very nearly destroyed.  Without  the documentation I provided FAA showing the true nature of this reef and associated fish (including a significant spawning site for surgeon fish), the planned dredging of several hundreds of meters of this reef would have gone ahead.
2.       The “reservoir” reef has been approved for dredging to provide fill by RMI EPA board of directors without any environmental assessment or public hearing (the plan revealed at a public hearing did not include subtidal reef mining, only reef flat mining in which no live coral would have been directly destroyed), and despite my offer to share photographic assessment I made the day of the meeting, a briefing that would have taken no more than five minutes.
3.       RMI EPA has repeatedly been pressured by two RMI administrations (first from acting President Jack Ading) to proceed with the project as proposed by PII despite the environmental destructive nature of this plan.
4.       PII has repeatedly lobbied to have key EPA personelle removed, first with Andrew Finlay, coastal conservation advisor, who was gradually changing dredging policy, phasing out shore-based mining.  Mr. Finlay was unfairly terminated (and forced to leave the country) by an EPA board of directors dominated by PII employees, and this reversed the nascent dredging policy.  More recently, in 2012, a moderate board chairman, Ben Chutaro, was removed from EPA.
5.       Biten Lankwi, chief financial officer of PII, is still on this EPA board, and the vacancy created by Andrew Finlay’s removal has not yet been filled, almost 3 years later.  The EPA is a weakened, crippled agency with very little capacity to fulfill its mandate, a view shared with me by the general manager.
6.       The RMI is struggling to plan for projected rising sea level and increased severity of storms.  An important part of “climate change adaptation” is protection and promotion of specific native shoreline vegetation that stabilize berms, and the protection of coral reefs that protect shorelines from waves.  Mining the shoreline, as has been proposed as part of the RSA project (and was done during the ARFF project in 2008) is inconsistent with these priorities.
7.       I have worked with PII in the past, co-authoring an EIA for reef flat mining in Lojemwa to provide revetment rock and aggregate.  PII is now planning to use this EIA in support of a resurrected Lojemwa reservoir project to be funded by Japan.
I hope this historic review might suggest that I have been a positive influence on this issue, partially filling a void in the local regulatory scene and helping to oppose a very aggressive and politically powerful PII in its attempt to increase its profits by mining coral.  PII’s characterization of me as an enemy of public safety is not credible.  I mean no disrespect to anyone.  I believe the US should generously share any expertise that can help the RMI chart a course towards a sustainable future.  (The RMI will need to be increasingly self-reliant on local food, and reef fish will no doubt become the most important source of protein once US compact money is discontinued.)  One part of this might be to help lease or purchase (or in some way facilitate) the sort of suction dredge technology that can economically exploit the vast deposits of lagoon sediment (fill and aggregate) in a manner that does not destroy coral reefs.  After the RSA
 project there will be many other requirements for fill, including the possible elevation of ground level (a strategy adopted by the Maldives).  The discontinuation of shore-based mining which destroys coral reefs is a rational, reasonable option that has been promoted by many both on island and abroad.

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