Inos relieved Air Force has no final decision yet

EIS pushed back to April

Those opposed to the U.S. Department of Defense’s proposal to locate the divert airfield on Saipan can heave a sigh of relief after U.S. military top brass, led by Joint Region Marianas commander Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar, assured Gov. Eloy S. Inos Tuesday that the U.S. Air Force hasn’t made a final decision on the sensitive issue.

The governor, along with Lt. Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres, met with Bolivar, Marine Corps Forces Pacific executive director Craig Whelden, Pacific Command Strategic Planning and Policy director Maj. Gen. Michael Dana, and Pacific Air Forces Brig. Gen. Steven Basham before noon Tuesday at the Governor’s Office conference room.

“[We were] operating under some vague–at least from the standpoint of the CNMI–understanding of the various project proposals and so forth and that’s why I’m just happy to hear that the work continues…” said Inos while adding the EIS on the divert airfield would probably come out in April.

The governor said his talk with Bolivar and company has given him the impression that any decision regarding the military’s use of CNMI land will only be made at the highest levels of government.

“My takeaway from this there is no final decision on these projects and that we expect the process would take its course. Only when all the facts have been presented, with public participation, that a decision would be made but that decision would be made at the highest level.”

Bolivar, meanwhile, thanked the governor for allowing the military to proceed with the EIS process regarding the divert airfield.

“I so appreciate the governor for allowing us to continue with EIS process. I think it would be beneficial to all of us—both the people of the CNMI as well as the Department of Defense—to be able to do the homework, to get those facts, and proceed with the EIS so we can give the Air Force the opportunity to make an informed decision,” she said.

The rear admiral also thanked the governor for providing them a venue to explain to the public that no final decision of the divert airfield has been made.

“The fact that no final decision has been made—and let me clarify that—is absolutely key, so thank you so much for clarifying that and we look forward to pushing forward and working that process with your blessing.”

Pacific Air Force Brig. Gen. Steven Basham also reiterated what the governor said that the CNMI government and the military will continue to have discussions on where the divert airfield will be placed.

“The governor said it very well. We’ve agreed that we’ll move together in dialogue but there has been no final decision and we want to dispel any concern that there’s been a final decision. From the Air Force it’s our desire to move forward in a collaborative and transparent manner to work toward that someday…I want to emphasize that the EIS is just fact-finding and that’s not the final decision. It’s always a proposed decision but the final decision, as said by the governor, will come from the highest levels.”

Dana, for his part, said having Bolivar aboard certainly helps as the Joint Marianas Command begins to tackle pressing issues like where the divert airfield would be located.

“We made it through a collaborative and transparent process and we picked our best and brightest to be the lead down here. The admiral is a Naval Academy graduate, a diver so she’s going to enjoy it here, and she has just great skills because she was a commander in the Northwest Pacific, which is a very important, just like yours is a very important region. I’m sure she will do great things and we’re very excited about the future.”

The divert airfield is intended to be an alternative landing base for Air Force planes if Andersen Air Force Base in Guam becomes unavailable because of weather or war.

CNMI officials are unified in their request to put the divert airfield on Tinian, where two-thirds of the island is already leased to the U.S. Department of Defense. DoD, however, wants it on Saipan.

The governor earlier told the Air Force that its request to lease 33 acres of land on Saipan for the next 50 years for a proposed divert airfield “is quite an undesirable conclusion as it would impede future commercial development in the area.”

During his inauguration speech on Monday, Inos said one of his first jobs would be to make a formal request to the President Barack Obama on 902 consultations between the two governments.

He said he would ask the President to appoint his representative for the executive-level talks allowed for under CNMI’s Covenant with the United States.

Expected to be discussed is a plan by DoD to use the international airport on Saipan as an alternative airfield.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at Mark_Rabago@saipantribune.com

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