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By Aldwin R. Fajardo

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 1, 2000)---Construction of the new West Tinian International Airport runway will be pushed through despite suspension of the groundbreaking on two occasions, according to Commonwealth Ports Authority (CPA) Executive Director Carlos H. Salas.

Mr. Salas was reacting to a letter from CPA Board Secretary Ray M. Cing expressing concern over the continued delay in construction.

The CPA initially informed the Tinian Legislative Delegation that the project would break ground not later than November 1999. The date was later moved to January 2000.

"January 2000 has already come to pass and groundbreaking is still nowhere in sight . . . CPA management seems to have continued to encounter delay after delay," Mr. Cing told the CPA executive director.

He was asking Mr. Salas to provide a "realistic schedule" for the groundbreaking of the project, and a report detailing the estimated dates of completion of the design, bid package, bid award and the notice to proceed.

In answering Mr. Cing's concerns, Mr. Salas pointed out that in order to begin construction every technical aspect of the West Tinian International Airport construction must be completed in accordance with CPA's plans and Federal Aviation Administration standards.

He explained that construction of a runway is a very specialized matter, including unique environmental studies and construction requirements normally not applicable anywhere else in the CNMI.

According to Mr. Salas, several technical bidding calculations are still pending and the complete electrical design is pending from the ports authority consultant.

The FAA is still studying the entire design work, with a planned review period of at least another four weeks. The project is contingent upon obtaining the approval of both the Honolulu and Los Angeles FAA offices before on any invitation for bids can proceed.

In July 1999, the FAA provided an additional $3.512 million for the West Tinian International Airport improvement project, which marked its fourth grant for the undertaking since September 1998.

The July 1999 grant brought to $9.387 million the total funds allocated by the FAA.

In addition to the FAA funding, the Commonwealth government has allocated $3.4 million in capital infrastructure project funds for the Tinian Air Transport Facility under Public Law 11-79, which was signed into law June 1999.

The total project cost is estimated to reach $20 million. The entire amount need not be made available immediately as the project is expected to take two to three years to complete.

The $20 million will cover costs related to the construction of a new 7,600-foot runway, some apron work and the relocation of the existing 8th Avenue, which will form part of the proposed runway.

The new runway will be constructed parallel and north of the existing runway, which will be turned into a taxiway.

The construction of a new runway is part of the original West Tinian International Airport rehabilitation plan. CPA later changed the project by proposing to extend the existing runway instead, which the FAA opposed. CPA now supports the original improvement plan, but will construct a 7,600-foot runway instead of one originally planned for 8,600 feet.

Although a longer runway would entail higher costs, CPA is not ruling out the possibility of extending the proposed 7,600-foot runway when additional funding becomes available.

For additional reports from the Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Saipan Tribune.

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