Military proposes ‘hybrid’ approach on divert plan

The U.S. military has proposed a “hybrid” approach as an option for the Pacific Air Forces Divert Initiative.

Ranking officials led by Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander, Joint Region Marianas and U.S. Pacific Command’s Defense Representative for CNMI, had a meeting with Gov. Eloy S. Inos to discuss the plan, a statement from Capital Hill released on Friday said.

Under this option, the military is proposing to add infrastructure to both Saipan and Tinian civilian airports, noting that both airports would still be operated as they are today, under civilian authority, with the goal of reducing any potential interference with civil aviation operations and expansion plans on Saipan.

The U.S. military is said to be “committed to looking at all possible options, to include a combination of development on both Saipan and Tinian.”

The military said its presence for exercises on Saipan would be scaled down from the Saipan-only approach.

Outside of a crisis, the anticipated maximum Air Force activity would be two to four tanker aircraft for up to eight weeks per year from CNMI airports, with the majority of activity on Tinian, the military said.

Allowing the Air Force to divide its projects between Saipan and Tinian would provide additional assurance that “de-confliction” with civil aviation and other Commonwealth Ports Authority activity will not be an issue, the military said.

“Collaboration between the military branches and the CNMI ensures all options are considered, in the spirit of continued openness in the process and through regular meetings between CNMI and military stakeholders.”

However, the Inos administration “continues to express a preference for a Tinian alternative.”

Both sides agreed that the National Environment Policy Act process should be completed so that all involved parties can make an informed decision, the statement adds.

Government officials and military top brass have been holding a series of meetings on the proposed divert plan and with it an Environmental Impact Statement that the U.S. military has to release.

Inos earlier said the EIS on the divert airfield “would probably come out in April.”

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.

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Joel D. Pinaroc | Reporter
Joel Pinaroc worked for a number of newspapers in the Philippines before joining the editorial team of Saipan Tribune. His published articles include stories on information technology, travel and lifestyle, and motoring, among others. Contact him at joel_pinaroc@saipantribune.com.

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