The Tinian Joint Leadership said the environmental impact study that identified Saipan as the “preferred Alternative 1” and Tinian as “preferred Alternative 2” for a divert or contingency airfield for the U.S. Air Force is “flawed” and “outdated.”
Tinian officials asked Gov. Benigno R. Fitial to once again endorse Tinian as the prime preferred site for an alternate airfield for the U.S. Air Force in the event that access to Guam's Andersen Air Force Base is limited or denied.
They hope that Fitial, as chairman of the CNMI Military Integrated Management Council, will agree and incorporate their comments in his response to the draft EIS.
Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz provided Fitial with a copy of the Tinian Joint Leadership's position paper endorsing Tinian as the site for a divert airfield, although Tinian leaders said they welcome such facility anywhere in the CNMI.
“It is unfortunate that those who created this EIS did not take into consideration either your comments or ours given during the first round of scoping meetings and correctly identify Tinian as the best long-term site for an Air Force divert base in the Northern Mariana Islands,” Dela Cruz told Fitial in a July 5 letter, a copy of which was obtained yesterday.
In his letter, the mayor told the governor that the EIS “fails to recognize the primacy of the Covenant and its technical agreement which provided two-thirds of the island of Tinian for future military development.”
“The EIS is also outdated. It does not reflect the improvements that have been made to Tinian dock or those that are programmed for the immediate future. Nor does it sufficiently recognize the impact that eight weeks of air operations per year would have on the residents of San Antonio, Koblerville, and San Vicente villages,” Dela Cruz told Fitial.
Tom Linden, MIMC coordinator, said the governor certainly would prefer Tinian but would welcome any initiatives in the CNMI.
Fitial left for the U.S. on a two-week official business trip on Monday. He is expected to be back on July 23 or 25.
The comment period for the draft EIS ends on July 23.
Dela Cruz, in a phone interview, said he hopes the governor will really take into consideration the Tinian Joint Leadership's sentiments when he submits comments to the draft EIS on or before the deadline. MIMC has not made a final decision yet.
Why Tinian is 'best'
The Tinian Joint Leadership is composed of the Tinian mayor, the Tinian Legislative Delegation, and the Tinian Municipal Council.
In their four-page position paper, they said the establishment of an Air Force divert base in the CNMI is a welcome addition to the CNMI economy-whether it is constructed on Saipan where an additional 40-some acres of land would have to be leased from the CNMI and provide only 87 percent operational resiliency to the Air Force, or on Tinian where military leased lands are already available at no additional cost to the U.S. and where the Air Force can obtain 100 percent of its operational resiliency in case of need.
“However, the U.S. Congress and higher echelon U.S. Air Force decision makers should be aware that the draft EIS for a divert base in the Northern Mariana Islands is flawed both fundamentally and technically with regard to the Tinian option,” the Tinian leaders said.
They said there are significant costs that have not been clearly identified in either the EIS of the executive summary, and there are significant recent capital improvement developments on Tinian that have not been identified.
Tinian leaders said the draft EIS did not give sufficient importance to the transportation of ammunition from Tanapag harbor in northern Saipan to Saipan International Airport on the very southern end of Saipan.
“Bombs would have to be transported through the heavily populated commercial and residential districts of western Saipan before reaching the airport. On the other hand, transporting ammunition from Tinian harbor to West Field International Airport would pass through a very lightly populated area to nearby West Field at a much shorter distance approximately 1.5 miles,” they said.
Tinian leaders said the draft EIS also flies in the face of the congressional mandate to streamline the U.S. Department of Defense by establishing inter-service operations.
This September, there will be a joint Army-Navy training operation at North Field on Tinian.
At about the same time, the Marine Expeditionary Force will conduct a joint Navy-Marine Corps training operation at North Field.
Most significantly, the recent Marine Air Group-12 exercise at both West Field, establishing restraining wires for F-18 hot refueling operations, and at North Field, establishing an expeditionary air field, demonstrated Tinian's ability to support major operations, Tinian officials said.
“Despite all this joint inter-service activity on the part of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, the Air Force-created draft EIS for a divert base purports to separate Air Force operations from the other services currently taking advantage of the joint-use opportunities available on existing Tinian leased lands,” they added.
Tinian leaders spoke about Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino which has 412 rooms and with a total capacity of well over 824, more than enough to support the personnel recommended in the draft EIS.
Matua Bay Resort also broke ground recently on a new golf course along Nassarino Beach on the southwestern coast of Tinian.
“The draft EIS goes to lengths to discuss the 'dilapidated' condition of the Tinian harbor and the Tinian dump. Currently, the dock at Tinian harbor is receiving extensive repairs, including a new sea wall, bollards, and fenders,” they said.
They added that new equipment is being bought to maintain the existing dump and design work is already at 30 percent complete for a new solid waste transfer station and a new landfill.
Tinian leaders said Tinian's population is not 5,000 people as stated in the draft EIS. They said it is barely 3,000.
“We encourage you to re-think the real purpose behind the construction of the divert base and recognize that utilizing the existing military land lease on Tinian gives the United States Air Force the best opportunity to fulfill its mission, now and in the future,” the Tinian leaders said.
The 110-page “Draft Environmental Impact Assessment for Proposed Divert Activities and Exercises, Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands” was released in June.
The Air Force considered four locations: Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
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.
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.