Armed Service committee restricts Air Force use of divert money

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Armed Service Subcommittee on Readiness is drafting a Defense budget with provisions that restrict the U.S. Air Force from acquiring land in the CNMI for a divert airfield until some Congressional oversight.

The draft Fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, The provides some $9 million to buy or lease land in the NMI for a divert airfield, but “prohibits” the secretary of the Air Force from using any of these funds “until the congressional defense committees have received a report…that provides the specific location of the property or interest to be acquired, the total cost, scope and location of military construction projects” and “analysis of any alternative locations considered.” The draft budget adds these other locations could be within the CNMI or the Freely Associated States.

The NDAA was marked up this week by the Readiness committee and will be marked up by the full Armed Services this week before heading to the floor for consideration by the House, according to U.S. Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) in his newsletter Saturday.

Sablan also said the Air Force requested that the $29.3 million previously authorized in the FY2014 Defense bill for three divert projects on Saipan be reauthorized in the FY2017 bill, but the Committee turned down this request because the Air Force is unable to answer questions on the cost, scope, and specific location of the three projects.

“So the $29.3 million will no longer be available, although it may be requested again in the future,” said Sablan on Saturday.

The budget also directs the secretary of the Department of Defense to brief the Armed Services committee no later than February 2017 on how Defense would “establish, maintain, and sustain a National Guard unit” in the CNMI. The National Guard Bureau in 2015 found that establishing a National Guard unit in the CNMI is “feasible.”

The committee, in the budget, says the Defense secretary must report on force structure allocation, recruiting, and funding requirements, including military construction to “allow the committee to evaluate the costs and overall impact of locating” a unit in the CNMI.

Under items of “special interests,” the committee says they are aware of joint military training project on Tinian and Pagan to develop firing ranges, training courses, and maneuver areas.

The committee said they are in support of the initiative and believes it is critical to support training capabilities in the western Pacific and readiness but also note the concerns about impacts to the environment and cultural and historic sites of the islands.

The committee directs the secretary of the Department of the Navy to provide a briefing to the full committee no later than 30 days after the Navy publishes its final revised environmental impact statement in 2017. The Navy had ordered a new round of studies following public concern last year.

“At minimum, the briefing should explain the preferred course of action for the development of training capabilities on the islands of Tinian and Pagan, concerns that were raised…and the proposed actions to mitigate the concerns that were raised through the” National Environmental Policy Act process.

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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