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Monday, April 21, 2014

Military plans for NMI prompt worries
CNMI weighs population safety with military economy, national security

Visiting Federal Aviation Administration officials and members of the CNMI Legislature raised concerns yesterday about the impact on the population’s safety and airports, among other things, of the U.S. Department of Defense’s proposal to develop live-fire training on Tinian and Pagan, as well as the use of Saipan or Tinian as an alternate airfield in the event that access to Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base is limited or denied.

Currently, there is no live-fire training area in the CNMI except on Farallon de Mendinilla.

The U.S. military plans to establish a series of live-fire and maneuver ranges and training areas on Tinian and Pagan, to address insufficient training facilities in the Western Pacific, particularly in the CNMI.

Lawmakers, including House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) and Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), said they recognize the need to support the U.S. military for national security reasons but they also have to consider whether what the military plans to build and do on the islands will be safe for residents and tourists, especially the impacts of live-fire training.

FAA Honolulu Airports District Office manager Ron Simpson and FAA Guam air traffic manager Tim Cornelison, for their part, shared their observations and concerns about the impacts of military activities on CNMI airports and restricted airspace.

Simpson, during a meeting with Senate and House members on Capital Hill, said that residents need to be aware that the military’s proposal “will bring substantial increase in activity” in airports.

He said FAA wants to ensure that military landings and the use of CNMI airports “should never at any time impact or interrupt or disrupt” commercial airlines’ services and schedules.

Some other specific concerns include the transport and storage of live ordnance at CNMI airports.

Simpson said FAA has been working with the Commonwealth Ports Authority and the military to establish standard operating procedures wherein the military has to formally request CPA for permission to come in and conduct training. Because each training requires different missions, goals, equipment, and different number of personnel, the request should be for every training that will be conducted.

Lawmakers took turns raising concerns and posing questions to FAA officials who, in turn, suggested that they also raise these concerns and ask the “hard questions” to the U.S. military.

April 29, 2013, is the deadline for submitting comments to the U.S. Navy’s “Notice of Intent to Prepare the CNMI Joint Military Training Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement.”

More information is available at www.cnmijointmilitarytrainingeis.com.

Tonight will also be the last of three public scoping meetings. It will be held at the Carolinian Utt in Garapan from 5pm to 8pm.

Scoping meetings were held at Dandan Elementary School on Wednesday night attended by some lawmakers and residents, as well as at the Tinian Gym last night.

Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz, one of those in attendance at last night’s scoping meeting, said a “compromise” can be reached to balance the concerns of residents with that of the military’s proposals.

“Safety is our primary concern,” Cruz said, adding that they also would like to ensure that tourism and access to historical sites on Tinian will not be impacted.

As of yesterday, the CNMI government has yet to come up with a unified position on Defense’s proposed plans for Tinian and Pagan.

“This is still under advisement. The administration would like to ensure that the feedback from stakeholders and the general community are taken into consideration as well. …The administration intends to work with the elected leadership to present a unified position on DoD’s Notice of Intent regarding joint military training EIS/OES,” press secretary Angel Demapan told Saipan Tribune.

CNMI officials had also asked the U.S. military to designate Tinian International Airport as a divert airfield instead of Saipan International Airport.

They said there are multiple residential villages adjacent to the Saipan airport that would be heavily impacted by increased noise levels, both from construction and from subsequent operational activities related to the project.

Ed Guerrero, Commonwealth Ports Authority director, said most of the areas that the military seeks to work on are in areas of significant historic importance. He said the Historic Preservation Office is reviewing possible impacts of any military activities on these areas.

“We have not given our authorization. We have not said yes or no because we need to look into the impacts,” he told lawmakers yesterday.

On Tinian, the closest residential development area is over one and a half miles away from the airport. CNMI officials also said the Tinian airport alternative would reduce potential conflicts between commercial and military activities.

In yesterday’s presentation, FAA’s Cornelison said “no matter what the Department of Defense wants to do in this part of the world, the islands here are so small that no matter how small of a footprint that it to their operation…[it will be] big when you lay it on Guam, or Tinian, or Saipan.”

“And they all come with significant impact,” he added.

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