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Sunday, April 20, 2014

US Air Force pushes through with divert airfield on Saipan

The U.S. Air Force is pushing though with plans to establish an alternative airfield on Saipan despite the CNMI’s request to build it on Tinian where two-thirds of the islands is already leased by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Citing communication from the U.S. Department of the Air Force Office of Legislative Liaison, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said the Air Force still prefers to build the divert airfield on Saipan and that the “the phases cannot be separated between two different locations” such as Saipan and Tinian.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, meanwhile, will receive a briefing from U.S. Pacific Air Forces or PACAF representatives on the divert airfield next week, press secretary Angel Demapan told Saipan Tribune yesterday.

PACAF oversees all U.S. Air Force commands in the Pacific region.

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.

Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz separately said he is “very disappointed” with the Air Force’s decision to build the divert airfield on Saipan.

“This facility would have been a great boon to the economic development of Tinian, an economy that has suffered ever since the Air Force decided not to build the base they said they so desperately needed in 1974. Now they want to ignore the land leased for them on Tinian and build it on Saipan,” Dela Cruz said in a July 15 letter to Sablan, a copy of which was released yesterday.

Sablan, in a July 11 letter, cited the Department of the Air Force Office of Legislative Liaison when he said “the Air Force still prefers to construct the divert facility [on] Saipan, as announced in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement released in June 2012.”

“The Air Force also states that although there are two phases for the exercise/divert facility, the phases cannot be separated between two different locations,” Sablan told Dela Cruz.

Phase 1 represents the minimum funding needed to develop an airport in the CNMI as an exercise/divert location.

Phase 2 is for the improvements to that airport, if additional funding becomes available.

Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian) said yesterday “it will be nice” to have the divert airfield on Tinian to help the island’s economy “and perhaps we can share the cost of our infrastructures that still need to be in place at our port.”

“But it’s beyond our control where they want to put the divert airfield,” Cruz told Saipan Tribune.

Rep. Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian) also said yesterday that the U.S. Air Force prefers Saipan “because of comfort and amenities which Tinian does not have.”

“Typical Air Force luxury,” he added.

US Congress funding

Sablan also pointed out that the U.S. House Armed Services Committee did not zero out funds for the divert facility in the CNMI.

H.R. 1960 or the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014, passed by the House in June 14, authorized funding for all three Air Force construction projects on Saipan as requested in President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget.

“The NDAA did, however, require that the Air Force require the necessary land where these projects will be constructed prior to the release of any funds,” Sablan told the Tinian mayor.

Why Saipan?

A 110-page “Draft Environmental Impact Assessment for Proposed Divert Activities and Exercises, Guam and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands” listed Saipan as “preferred alternative 1” and Tinian as “preferred Alternative 2” in June 2012.

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 having 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.”

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