US House OKs defense bill with NMI divert airfield amendment


The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 that includes Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) one-page amendment to expand the existing authorization for a proposed U.S. Air Force divert airfield construction project “at any suitable location in the Northern Mariana Islands.” The current authorization is for Saipan, but the CNMI government wants the airfield to be on Tinian.

CNMI officials said it makes more sense to put the divert airfield on Tinian, where two-thirds of the island is already leased to the U.S. Department of Defense.

The divert airfield is intended to be an alternative landing base for Air Force planes if Andersen Air Force Base in Guam becomes unavailable because of weather or war.
“My amendment would permit expenditure of the funds on Tinian, as well, in the event that the Air Force and the Commonwealth agree that Tinian is the appropriate location for this development,” Sablan said.

The authorized $29.3 million would construct an aircraft parking apron, a maintenance facility, and a hazardous cargo pad.
The Air Force is presently engaged in an environmental impact process to select between Tinian and Saipan for exercise activities and a back-up airfield in the event Andersen Air Force Base in Guam becomes unavailable.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos earlier told the Air Force that its request to lease 33 acres of land on Saipan for the next 50 years for a proposed divert airfield “is quite an undesirable conclusion as it would impede future commercial development in the area.”

The House version of the $601-billion NDAA also approves a 1.8-percent pay increase for military personnel.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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