Divert airfield pact signed

CPA gets $21.9M in lump-sum payment

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres reaches out to shake the hand of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison R. Sands after signing last Friday on Tinian the 40-year lease agreement worth $21.9 million for certain airport and seaport properties on Tinian for the Air Force’s divert airfield project. Also in the photo are Commonwealth Ports Authority board members, Tinian leadership, and Department of Defense officials and representatives. (Roselyn B. Monroyo)

TINIAN—The U.S. Department of Defense, the Commonwealth Ports Authority, and the CNMI government made history last Friday, signing off on a 40-year lease agreement worth $21.9 million for certain airport and seaport properties on Tinian for the U.S. Air Force’s divert airfield.

Those properties are mostly lands on the north side of the Tinian International Airport, said Joint Marianas commander Shoshana S. Chatfield.

The CPA board of directors led by chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds approved a CPA resolution on the lease agreement with the U.S. DoD during the CPA board meeting at the Tinian International Airport’s departure terminal.

The deal will allow the Air Force to use Tinian as an alternative landing site for its planes—a divert airfield—in case Anderson Air Force Base in Guam is inaccessible due to war or calamities.

CPA received a lump-sum payment of $21.9 million after the signing of the lease agreement and after years of negotiations,

The lease agreement is expected to spur economic activities on the island as it will directly benefit the people of Tinian through infrastructure improvement of the Tinian International Airport, public roads, and community facilities around the island.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres was among those who spoke during the public comments of the meeting.

“For the great people of Tinian, congratulation for the resolution that has been well negotiated,” Torres said.

The governor conceded that military matters on the islands are very sensitive matters, but he is happy with the CPA and Tinian leadership in finally going through with the divert airfield project.

“What is best for Tinian is best for the CNMI,” he added.

Among the signatories of the lease agreement were Torres, King-Hinds, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific Real Estate Division director Hope Marini, CPA executive director Christopher S. Tenorio, Joint Marianas commander Rear Adm. Shoshana S. Chatfield, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison R. Sands.

In an interview, King-Hinds said that getting the Tinian airport to a level that will allow it to welcome international flights requires a fuel storage facility and getting the airport’s buildings up to federal code, which include the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection component.

King-Hinds said it is their hope that this lease agreement creates a lot of jobs to Tinian.

King-Hinds, however, clarified some misunderstanding and misconception about this close to half a billion-dollar construction that is coming. “That goes to the building of their [U.S. Department of Defense] infrastructure and we have no control over who gets to work on those projects,” she pointed out.

King-Hinds is hoping that these federal contractors use local businesses, patronize local businesses, and subcontract local needs to be able to come and work on these projects.

“I’m kind of hoping that this will translate into something that is economically beneficial,” she said.

Obviously, there will be a lot of people who are going to come and stay on the island during the construction period, she said. This, she said, will translate into hotel occupancy tax and possibly the re-opening of Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino.

“I hope it will happen,” said King-Hinds.

As for what’s next, King-Hinds said that, as far as the divert project is concerned, there will be negotiations on what’s called a service operating agreement. She said as a result of the Air Force’s footprint at the airport, there is going to be additional maintenance cost and additional personnel cost. There will also be additional utilities cost because the Air Force will be hooking to CPA’s grid.

King-Hinds said what they hope to see is additional funds coming to CPA and, for Tinian, more job opportunities for its people.

“And that’s how I hope that will translate into a direct benefit to the community,” she said.

King-Hinds said they are going to return to the table next week to begin talking about the process and timelines. “We will know a little bit next week. So, this is kind of first phase,” she said.

King-Hinds said the divert airfield is not only a training but an operational requirement for the Air Force. She said in the event that something catastrophic happens to Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, the Air Force needs somewhere to go.

As for its operational requirement, King-Hinds said the Air Force has training requirements annually and do humanitarian relief exercises as well, so if there is a typhoon, they practice how they would respond to that.

Torres said the Air Force first wanted the divert airfield to be on Saipan, while the CNMI and CPA wanted it be on Tinian. The Air Force came back with a counter-offer: they wanted to do a little bit of it on Saipan and most of it on Tinian. CPA responded by insisting that the matter is non-negotiable, that if the Air Force wants the divert airfield, it will be on Tinian—to benefit Tinian and the CNMI.

For that success, Torres credits King-Hinds and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison R. Sands.

“Both of them have gone through the extent of negotiating, making sure that our concern is met as well as their project is also met and that’s the reason why we are here,” Torres said.

The governor is thankful of the support from CPA board, its employees, and to Department of Defense partners in addressing the CNMI’s concerns as they move forward.

With the lease signed, what follows is $400 million worth of construction on Tinian—at the airport and at the seaport—to prepare for divert construction activities, said Sands in an interview.

“So a lot of construction,” Sands said.

One of those projects is a fuel pipeline that would run from the seaport to the airport.

That project would help commercial airplanes have access to fuel at the Tinian airport, which they don’t have today.

“And that is critical for bringing in commercial flights,” Sands said.

“I think, first of all, the immediate issue will be the construction work that is going to happen,” Sands said, adding that not only will there be an opportunity for skilled labors locally but also the additional people that will be brought in for the long construction period.

Sands sees more tourists coming in with an improved airport.

Chatfield said this will enable them to put down concrete on the north side of Tinian airport to allow for larger aircraft to land—aircraft that can be used for refueling missions on air.

Chatfield said they will also create a large fuel storage facility.

The $21.9 million, she said, will be used by CPA in improving both the airport and seaport on Tinian.

Tinian Mayor Edwin Aldan said they are very grateful to the leadership of the Torres administration and to the Tinian and Aguigan Legislative Delegation and Tinian Municipal Council.

Aldan said the divert project has been negotiated for a couple of years and that he is happy that they finally signed the lease agreement.

He said the $21.9 million being wired to a CPA account is to be used to do major projects for the airport and the seaport.

Aldan said he believes majority of these funds will be dedicated to the airport and some funds will be dedicated to the seaport.

What makes Aldan excited about this is that there will be more other projects.

“The people of Tinian have waited for this for a long, long time,” the mayor said.

This $21.9 million, the mayor said, is going to be disbursed by CPA and the immediate impact to the island’s economy will be huge during the construction period, such as food and lodging.

The other signatories of the lease agreement were Pacific Air Forces Force Posture Division Col. Michael E. Gimbrone and project manager realty specialist Kirstin M. Punu.

CPA staff attorney Joseph Hallahan and Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific associate counsel Steven Daugherty Sr. also signed the agreement.

According to CPA’s resolution, the U.S. government, through the U.S. Air Force, signed the Record of Decision for the Divert Activities and Exercise, CNMI Final Environmental Impact Statement on Dec. 7, 2016.

These facilities are intended to be built largely on the north side of the Tinian airport. Additional facilities required for the U.S. to achieve divert capabilities are intended to be built at the Port of Tinian.

U.S. Congress has appropriated $21.9 million for the acquisition of the properties.
The U.S., through its Department of the Navy, sent a formal request to Torres on Jan. 18, 2018, expressing its intent to acquire additional interests and rights in property on Tinian.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison R. Sands hold the symbolic $21.9 million check as Department of Defense’s lump-sum payment to the Commonwealth Ports Authority for the 40-year lease of certain airport and seaport properties on Tinian for the Air Force’s divert airfield project. Also in the photo are CPA board chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds and CPA board members as well as Defense’s officials. (Roselyn B. Monroyo)

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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