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By Lindablue F. Romero

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 29, 1998 - The Saipan Tribune)---The planned expansion of Saipan International Airport may be delayed should the Federal Aviation Administration insist on requiring the Commonwealth Ports Authority to carry out an environmental impact statement (EIS) first before proceeding with the project.

Carlos H. Salas, executive director, said the ports authority is still negotiating with FAA to accept instead the environmental assessment (EA) report that it has already submitted, since CPA was able to prove that any negative effect on the environment can be mitigated.

Salas said he believes that no controversial issue related to the project would warrant an EIS and that the FAA as the lead agency can already determine that it poses no significant impact to the environment.

The ports authority has already submitted a draft of the environmental assessment to FAA in November 1997 but has not received any comment from the agency. Instead, the agency has hinted that the CPA may be required to undertake an EIS which requires a longer process. It will take the ports authority two years to do an EIS.

Salas said the planned expansion at the airport involves the construction of taxi lanes and hardstand located at the east side of the commuter terminal. When this is accomplished, it will become easier for the ports authority to set up additional gates at the airport.

In a letter to Howard S. Yoshioka, airports district office manager of FAA, Salas said the ports authority wants to know what led the aviation office to determine that an EIS was necessary since CPA believes that an EA is enough.

Salas said CPA was not informed earlier that significant impacts on the environment were to be expected with the planned Saipan Airport expansion project.

In submitting an EA, Salas said the necessary measures which will mitigate the negative impact of the project on the environment have been included in the study.

The CNMI Historical Preservation Office, the National Park Service as well as the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation have addressed the possible impact of the project on the World War II Japanese airfield. Likewise, it does not pose any danger to the federally endangered nightingale reed-warbler.

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