Military sheds more details of divert plan

The U.S. military’s top brass in the Pacific outlined details of the proposed Pacific Air Forces Divert Initiative, which involves the construction of several military facilities on Saipan and Tinian.

At a news briefing on Capital Hill, Joint Region Marianas commander Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar, Pacific Air Forces Brig. Gen. Steven Basham, and Marine Corps Forces Pacific executive director Craig Whelden joined Gov. Eloy S. Inos in presenting the detailed plans.

Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar is flanked by Gov. Eloy S. Inos, left, and Pacific Air Forces Brig. Gen. Steven Basham, right, at a news briefing on Capital Hill yesterday. (JOEL D. PINAROC)

Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Admiral Bette Bolivar is flanked by Gov. Eloy S. Inos, left, and Pacific Air Forces Brig. Gen. Steven Basham, right, at a news briefing on Capital Hill yesterday. (JOEL D. PINAROC)

Bolivar said she has kept Inos informed of the divert plan though “periodic phone calls,” to get the governor up to speed. The military top brass earlier held meetings with Lt. Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres about the plan.

Whelden said some of the plan’s details include military construction such as bulk fuel storage areas, cargo and maintenance bays, a pipeline, and military bunkers on Tinian, among others.

In the proposed divert plan, there will be less structures on Saipan compared to Tinian, where a majority of military activities will be, Whelden said.

There is also currently an authorized $23.9 million to be invested on Saipan for bulk fuel storage, a cargo pad for offloading of military aircraft, and a small 6,000-square-foot maintenance facility.

“We are not looking for a long-term presence at all on Saipan,” Whelden said, noting that it will be different on Tinian.

“On Tinian, Marines will add concrete structures, fuel storage, pipeline from the seaport, cargo pad, maintenance facilities, aircraft taxiways, and other facilities that the U.S. Marines may need,” he added.

For the Air Force, Basham said the hybrid plan calls for 12 Boeing 707 aircraft (commercial size) and a KC 135 Stratotanker (a midair refueling aircraft) spread over Saipan and Tinian.

He emphasized that should the hybrid plan push through, majority of the activities will be on Tinian, which he said will allow the military “to avoid” disrupting civilian activities.

The military official, however, said he cannot give a “100 percent guarantee” that the divert plan will not affect commercial flights, but stressed that as much as possible, there will be no “disruptions” of commercial flights, particularly on Saipan.

EIS hearings

Whelden, meanwhile, said there are two EIS reports that the military hopes to complete. One is for the divert plan and another for the CNMI Joint Military Training exercises on Tinian.

He said the military is now halfway through the CJMT EIS and is looking at how to “blend” them into one.

An EIS describes the effects of proposed activities on the environment; in this case the effects of military presence in the CNMI. It will be presented for a public hearing before military activities can begin.

According to Whelden, the military is set to submit the EIS to the Federal Register on April 3. The military top brass will then go back to the CNMI for public hearings on April 29, April 30, and May 1.

“Probably two [public hearings on Saipan] and one on Tinian,” Whelden said, adding that the public will also hear about the hybrid divert plan at these scheduled hearings.

Japan interest

Whelden said Japan is also interested to hold military exercises on Tinian, and that the Japanese government will pay a certain “share” in the construction costs of the proposed military facilities on Tinian. However, he said he cannot disclose any other details.

“Japan has been coming to the CNMI,” Whelden said, adding that it is not exactly a surprise that its military will have “interests.”

Still noncommittal

As far as Inos is concerned, the hybrid plan presents an alternative for the government to further study.

The governor said he “acknowledges the alternative,” and admitted he never thought of such a solution.

However, Inos said these are still “preliminary discussions” and the “strong stand” of the Commonwealth Ports Authority against using a divert airport on Saipan remains.

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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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