Saipan is the “preferred Alternative 1” for a divert or contingency airfield for the U.S. Air Force in support of expanding its mission requirements in the western Pacific in the event that access to Guam's Andersen Air Force Base is limited or denied, but Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and other officials are still hoping that Tinian will earn the spot when a final decision is made.
The 110-page “Draft Environmental Impact Assessment for Proposed Divert Activities and Exercises, Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands” listed Tinian as “preferred Alternative 2.”
The Air Force considered four locations: Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
But an evaluation of the four possible site alternatives identified Saipan and Tinian as meeting or have the ability to meet most of the five selection standards.
Rota and Guam were dropped because they do not meet the selection standard for “storm radius.”
Saipan has access to fuel vessels unlike Tinian. Both Saipan and Tinian have limited capability to meet the selection standard of “adequate land and existing infrastructure with expansion potential to satisfy proposed action requirements.”
The full text of the draft EIS is available at http://www.pacafdivertmarianaseis.com/docs/public-review-period/Divert%20Public%20Draft%20EIS_Master_FrontSection2.pdf.
Tom Linden, coordinator for the CNMI Military Integration Management Committee, said yesterday that a final decision has not been made, and there might still be a possibility of having Tinian as preferred site over Saipan after evaluation of public comments to the draft EIS.
Linden said while the CNMI government welcomes the initiative to designate any of the islands of the CNMI as divert location, “Tinian would be our preferred choice.”
“Governor Fitial still prefers Tinian,” Linden told Saipan Tribune.
The comment period for the draft EIS is from June 8 to July 23, 2012.
Fitial, in his official submission last year, cited six distinct advantages that Tinian offers, including the airport's 1.5-mile distance from the closest residential development so noise issues shouldn't be a concern. He said the Tinian port has a deep water harbor, is close to the airport, and is underutilized.
“The development of Tinian will enhance other military buildup-related activities. Existing runways can easily be expanded,” he said. The governor also said all lands in question are already public lands so it will not require purchase of any private lands. He added that over 95 percent of the people living on Tinian welcome this initiative and will be extremely supportive.
Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) also asked the Air Force to consider Tinian, while Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) offered Rota.
Rep. Trenton Conner (R-Tinian) and Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) separately said yesterday that they welcome having one of the CNMI's airports designated as divert airfield but they said they “leave it up to the experts,” referring to the Air Force to decide which one between Saipan and Tinian.
“A gain for one island is gain for the CNMI,” Cruz said. Two-thirds of Tinian lands are leased by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Conner, for his part, said while the final decision rests with the Air Force, he said he is still hoping that Tinian will be considered.
“If not, there will still be other branches of the military that can use Tinian. As you know, the Marines recently trained on Tinian and we hope to host more training exercises to help enhance the island's economy,” Conner said.
The draft EIS for the U.S. Air Force Divert Activities and Exercises was entered into the Federal Register on June 8.
The proposed divert location will use up to 12 KC-135 wide-bodied airplanes and 500 to 700 support personnel.
The Air Force said the purpose of the proposed action is to ensure a divert field-an alternative location to Andersen Air Force Base-exists “that can support emergency divert requirements, military training and exercises, and humanitarian relief operations within a reasonable distance to AAFB and the Philippine Sea.”
The proposal would result in critical enhancements to an existing civilian airfield.
U.S. Air Force representatives will hold a briefing of this report to MIMC members and other agencies on June 25.
There will also be community outreach sessions, including one on June 23, Saturday, at 4pm at Saipan Southern High School and June 24, Sunday, also at 4pm, at Dandan Elementary School.
Linden said outreach sessions in Koblerville and Dandan have been scheduled as those two communities will have the most direct impact from noise if Saipan is indeed the chosen location.
The other outreach sessions include: Saipan, Monday, June 25, from 5pm to 8pm at the Multi-Purpose Center; Tinian, Tuesday, June 26, from 5pm to 8pm at Tinian Elementary School; and Rota, Wednesday, June 27, from 4pm to 5:30pm at the Mayor's Office.