Gov. Ralph DLG Torres recently spent a good deal of time in Hawaii being feted and entertained by the U.S. Department of Defense. First class treatment all the way, and a front row seat to watch the toned-down-for-a-civilian sales job version of live fire training. They even let him pat the shiny new cannons and rockets with a stem glass of Mouton Cadet, pinky properly raised, in the other hand.
Joking aside, because this is no joke, live fire training exercises are not compatible with a tourist-based economy. We are a tourism-based economy. Live fire training will kill off 70 % of it.
Tinian will wind up with all the negative things about military occupation but won’t even have the somewhat dubious distinction of having a real military base with a payroll and some perks and bennies to subdue the local residents. No, Tinian will get the PCBs and the depleted uranium and the destroyed ecosystem and the bombing range craters and jet strafing and tanks driving around blowing stuff up but won’t get the money. That conveniently stays on Guam with the clean part of the military operation. Tinian gets the shaft. Guam gets the cream. Tinian will have very few tourist arrivals as long as live fire training is held there. Only hardcore World War II history buffs. Expect no new economic development on Tinian except perhaps a couple of bars and a couple of cat houses near the shooting range for the use of off-duty military. The Marines will bring in their own food and very few of them will have off-duty time to spend checking out Tinian; they’ll all be working/training/blowing stuff up.
Pagan will look like FDM in five or 10 years, a burned out, stripped, bomb-cratered remnant of its former self, “unsuitable for human habitation.” Right now Pagan represents hope for the small population that was born there and wants to repatriate that beautiful island. Pagan also represents hope for the future of CNMI tourism, first as an ecotourism destination and later, with the slow buildup of some basic infrastructure, a full-blown black sand paradise destination island. That is the kind of diversified, sustainable new destination attraction that can revitalize and grow our NMI tourism market. But not if they are bombing it and driving amphibious assault vehicles over the reefs, killing the ecosystem as they go.
But Bruce, we’ll still have Saipan where most of the tourists go, right? Well, no. We’ll have a very small slice of what we have now. None of the southern Saipan resorts will survive day and night bombing and strafing noise and light pollution. Tourists don’t like vacationing within sight and sound of military bombing exercises. Those who do come go home with tales of military occupation next door, plus noise and instability causing even further drops in visitor arrivals. Even the northern Saipan resorts will be affected as airspace into and out of Saipan has to be shared with military traffic into and out of Tinian’s “divert” training facility near the airport and will have to close down completely when certain types of live fire events are going on. Guess who has the airspace priority? Military training or regularly scheduled civilian air service carrying visitors and tourists. Who pays the FAA? Nuff said. Expect very little new development on Saipan. None in the south and not much in the north. Sheila will be happy. The rest of us, not so much.
Gov. Torres is already talking about looking forward to “a lot of discussions” to work out the details of the “mutually beneficial partnership” with DoD, indicating that yes, he has already committed Tinian and Pagan to them and now it will take those discussions and undoubtedly plenty of first-class fact-finding trips hither and yon to get the sad, dirty job done. The answer to the title of this piece is sadly, yes, he will and already has sold Tinian and Pagan to the feds. As to the price, I’m sure he will be outwitted as were his predecessors back in the ’70s when DoD wrangled the whole FDM island and the northern half of Tinian for less than a dollar an acre for 99 years. Not bad rent—a penny a year. Maybe Ralph will get 2 cents.
In a previous column I suggested that if we were going to sell off Pagan, we should do so at a price that was as important to the buyers as the loss of another one of our precious 14 islands is to us in the NMI. They get an island, we get financial independence. I suggested a minimum starting lease of $1 billion per year. There should be an escalation clause for increasing that amount as inflation reduces the worth of rents received. The majority, say 80% of the rent, should be deposited to the benefit of the NMD owners in a land trust account with 20%, or $200 million, going to the general fund to operate the central NMI government. That sounds a lot better than 2 cents or 10 cents of whatever quid pro quo Gov. Torres can talk them out of. Do I think we should sell our precious islands, to be ruined forever by the DoD for the 30 pieces of silver? No, I don’t. But since he has already given DoD the nod-and-wink that it’s a done deal, I say let’s at least get properly paid for being screwed.
Thanks for reading Sour Grapes!
“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”
“The aim of military training is not just to prepare men for battle but to make them long for it.”
Bruce A. Bateman resides on Saipan with a wife, a son, and an unknown number of boonie dogs. He has owned and operated a number of unusual businesses and most recently worked as the marketing manager for MVA. Bruce likes to read, travel, tinker with bicycles, hike, swim, and play a bit of golf. He is opinionated and writes when the moon is full and the mood strikes.