LIVE-FIRE PROJECTS IN CNMI
A top Department of Defense official taking part in “Section 902” talks with the local government says he is “confident” that the consultation will reflect the CNMI’s concerns with proposed Defense live-fire and bombing projects and inform U.S. President Barrack Obama, in a final report targeted out by the end of the year.
Pete Potochney, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Basing, who is also Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations and Environment, and local government officials toured the island of Tinian yesterday, where a range of live-fire complexes are proposed, visiting proposed military sites, including the local airport.
Speaking to reporters at the local airport yesterday afternoon, Potochney was asked about Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ position that the live-fire fire project on Tinian would have to be reworked to be compatible with agreements made between the U.S. and CNMI in the CNMI Covenant and relevant technical agreements.
Potochney said the 902 process was important for “all those reasons” “It is a function of the Covenant but it also helps us inform, be informed of the concerns of the CNMI’s people. And that’s huge. And having today’s site visit and the whole consultation process allows to us to understand in the best way possible the CNMI’s concerns.”
Torres, for his part, said they got federal officials “to actually see Tinian” and “tour what is being proposed with” their proposed “CNMI Joint Military Training,” or CJMT, program, which includes a bombing range on Pagan.
The governor believes they “got things across” on the trip. “We had lunch together, we had dinner together, a lot of the communication we are doing, echoing concerns, strengthening the relationship…of this consultation,” he said.
“We are happy to discuss and address the ‘Tinian-only’ for the divert airfield,” he also said, before leaving the airport yesterday.
“We had a very productive day with both the governor and as well as Mayor [Joey Patrick] San Nicolas,” said Department of Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina. “And I think as we are looking at the long term for the report to the President, it will be very informative the on the ground meetings both on Tinian as well as Saipan as you know on the multitude of issues we are dealing with.” Kia’ana is Obama’s special representative on the 902 team.
On the pressing issue of a breached contract worker cap, which is forcing hundreds of workers, not including their families, to leave the CNMI this fiscal year, Kia’aina indicated any immediate fixes would have to be addressed “bilaterally” between Torres and the Department of Homeland Security.
The contract worker crisis was addressed in the first round of 902 talks and the talks are not seen as the avenue for immediate resolutions but for long-term ones, like the extension of the program past its 2019 expiration date.
Pressed on how workers and families were dying to hear if there are any progress on these any immigration fixes and asked to comment on any progress, Kia’aina said, “Not in my 902 capacity. That would be a better issue for the governor because he is the individual engaged in ongoing discussions with the Department of Homeland Security.”
Among other immediate administrative fixes, Torres and his team have asked immigration officials to revise their cap for this fiscal year, from 12,999 to 13,998.
They’d do this by revising their reduction of the cap this fiscal year, originally at 1,000 to just 1, in order to create applicant space and provide immediate relief to the cap.