The CNMI government has submitted its formal comment to the U.S. Air Force on a draft environmental impact statement, encouraging the use of Tinian as the preferred site for an alternate airfield in the event that access to Guam's Andersen Air Force Base is limited or denied.
The Air Force, in its draft EIS, identified Saipan as the “preferred Alternative 1” and Tinian as “preferred Alternative 2” for a divert or contingency airfield.
Acting governor Eloy S. Inos, as acting chair of the CNMI Military Integration Management Committee, told Air Force Capt. Rebecca Heyse that the CNMI is supportive of the U.S. military and openly endorses a robust military presence in the CNMI.
He said the CNMI looks forward to hosting the Air Force's proposed divert activities within the CNMI. Inos also said the Commonwealth understands the Air Force's environmental analysis and sensitivity to the financial implications and rationale on selecting Saipan as the preferred alternative.
But Inos said the CNMI “encourages the USAF to consider a more strategic and holistic approach, which leverages scarce Department of Defense resources on a joint service-joint international training complex on the island of Tinian.”
He said enhancing Tinian West Field supports Air Force's divert activities mission, while also enhancing Tinian's training value.
“Recent training exercises, inclusive of Marine Air Group 12 (MAG 12) exemplifies the interoperability of missions in the region and justifies the need for a comprehensive integrated training venue,” Inos said in the submission of MIMC's official comment and the governor's White Paper on the draft EIS.
He said existing civilian infrastructure affords the potential of cost sharing, while the small civilian population does not generate significant compatibility challenges.
“The choice of Tinian for the USAF Divert Activities is a step forward in fulfilling the intent of the long-term lease between the Commonwealth and the United States,” he said.
Two-thirds of Tinian leased is leased by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The islands of Saipan and Tinian played major roles during World War II and Tinian in specific had the world's busiest airport during the war. It was the launching pad of the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hastening the end of the war.
He said CNMI officials understand that Saipan offers numerous advantages such as access to fuel vessels, better infrastructure, a control tower and existing fuel storage capabilities. He added that any improvement made on Saipan will only enhance the islands and region for future military actions.
“If the USAF determines that Saipan is indeed so advantageous to this mission, we will welcome the Air Force to the Commonwealth,” he said.
The acting governor said MIMC's major concerns to the preferred alternative 1 (Saipan) are the noise impacts on the villages of Koblerville, Dandan, and San Antonio, the requirement for additional land leases on and around the Commonwealth Ports Authority property, and the cultural resource adverse impacts on As Lito/Isley Field National Historic Landmark.
The Air Force will prepare its final EIS between July and October, for the release notice of availability for final EIS. A record of decision is expected in December.
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.