Document clears way for final decisions from Air Force on divert base
In front of Department of Defense and top local officials, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed yesterday a programmatic agreement meant to govern the use and protect historical properties on Tinian from the effects of a divert airfield project on the island, clearing the way for final environmental documents to be issued by the U.S. Air Force and a Record of Decision to be signed by the Air Force secretary on the siting of the base by December this year.
“We still have a long way ahead of us,” Torres told the crowd before signing the document at the Office of the Governor conference room on Capitol Hill.
Torres thanked counsel Wesley Bogdan for “working diligently” on the document, while addressing Torres’ and Tinian Mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas’ concerns.
“What this allows there is no other options than ‘Tinian-only’’” Torres said, referring to his and the local government’s preferred option that the Air Force’s divert airfield, which currently proposes to land tanker aircraft, to be built on Tinian.
Torres added they still have to go back to the Commonwealth Ports Authority, the Department of Public Lands, and other departments on negotiations for land leases but noted the moment’s importance.
“I believe this is a monumental time for all of us to show our military family your support of the project,” Torres said.
“…our concerns will be addressed,” he added.
Lt. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, the deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Command and the single point of contact for Defense projects in the CNMI, praised Torres for “absolutely representing” the people of the CNMI and putting front the issues of the CNMI “vigorously” but with “respect and honesty.”
“And a willingness to work with us,” he added. “And we have in kind addressed your issues.”
The general said the document went through about 40 changes, some of them “major,” adding that some changes needed approval from the deputy secretary of the Department of Defense
Crutchfield said that behind the scenes Torres is absolutely working hard for the issues of the CNMI. “And they are heard,” he added.
Crutchfield later told reporters that a final environmental assessment for the project would be done in August, giving a “12-week” timeline for which a final “Record of Decision” could be made.
“We think a final can be done in August and we think a ROD can be made by December. Those are approximate dates,” he told reporters.
The Torres administration could not yet release the document yesterday, as all signatories to the document had not yet inked their names to make it a public record.
But the document was negotiated in a way that should Defense choose another site other than Tinian—like Saipan or a hybrid use of both islands—then they would have to go through another round of historic consultation with parties to reach another programmatic agreement, which is mandated under “Sec 106” of the National Historic Preservation Act.
The document also, Saipan Tribune learned, has Torres signing on the document as a representative of the CNMI Historic Preservation Office, making him a main signatory on the document, rather than an invited signatory, which could give him more say should parties propose amendments to its provisions.
San Nicolas told reporters after the signing event the airfield project was in line more with “economic” promises of the CNMI Covenant and attached technical agreement with the United States, which provided two-thirds of Tinian to the Department of Defense to build a military base on island.
That’s always been the intent since the Covenant was created with a technical agreement in place. The idea was we would benefit from this relationship, not just the U.S and the CNMI, but also the military activity on Tinian.
Asked if the divert project better “aligns” with the Covenant and technical agreement than another military propose live-fire project, San Nicolas, said, “Yes. Far more than the CJMT. Far better.”
He was referring to the CNMI Joint Military Training project proposed on Pagan and Tinian, which hopes to situate heavy live firing ranges on the islands, inclusive of a bombing range on Pagan.
San Nicolas hopes with construction of the divert airfield there would be local construction companies hired that “would create economic opportunity, which would mean jobs.” “They would have to buy aggregate, or sand, we have some quarries on Tinian as well. We look forward to the divert project,” he added.
Crutchfield, for his part, said he did not have a comment on the status of the CJMT project yesterday, saying that with the PA signed he would be shifting his focus to the project.
“I’m a pretty simple guy. I try to bite the apple, one bite at a time, and when there are significant issues and rightly so of what the people of the CNMI feel are issues, we gotta address them and not cloud all the decisions,” Crutchfield told reporters after the event. “If you try to put too much into one thing, it’s so confusing and you can’t deal with it. So we are breaking this up into parts. Now that this is done we will begin to move forward with the CJMT portion of this as well.
Latest North Korea scare
At the same time yesterday, Crutchfield told reporters they had been aware of North Korea’s intention to fire its latest rounds of test missiles.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that North Korea had boasted the successful testing of a powerful new midrange ballistic missile test that North Korea state media said propelled one of the weapons more than 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) high, which would allow strikes on U.S. forces throughout the region.
“We continue to monitor all the things that are happening in North Korea. We projected that they would fire the recent missile that they fired just yesterday. We were aware of what they are trying to do. We are concerned about it as the international community should be concerned about it. Anytime, you continue to test long-range missiles like that it’s dangerous for all of us,” Crutchfield said.
“As far as changing our game plan, no, we are going to continue doing what we always do…We have plans and procedures in place that would address anything that North Korea or any country tried anytime of aggression against us, the U.S. territories, our partners and allies.”
The Joint Region Marianas, for its part, issued the following statement on the latest development:
“U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) systems detected and tracked what Stratcom officials assess were North Korean missile launches at 4:56 p.m. EDT and 7:03 p.m. EDT yesterday.
“The launch of two presumed Musudan intermediate range ballistic missiles occurred at Wonsan, Stratcom officials said, adding that the missiles were tracked over the Sea of Japan, where initial indications are they fell.”
“The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the missile launches from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America, officials said. Stratcom’s mission is to conduct global operations in synchronization with other combatant commands and appropriate U.S. government agencies to detect, deter, and prevent strategic attacks against the United States, its allies and its partners, and to be prepared to deliver war-fighting capability to defend the nation.”