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By Marian A. Maraya

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 1) - The Pacific Basin Development Council is working with the Federal Aviation Administration in the deployment of at least a partial or "bare-boned" staffing to open up the Midway airport for emergency landings, Gov. Juan N. Babauta reported.

Babauta, the PBDC president, cited the organization's steadfast efforts to lobby for the reopening of the Midway airport as among the group's main agenda, in addition to homeland security and other regional issues.

"It [airport] was closed for a while basically because of costs and because of hazards with respect to the birds there because the birds get into the engine of the aircraft. And basically just manning the whole place. There's hardly anybody there," explained Babauta.

Midway is an atoll in the northwestern part of the Hawaiian archipelago.

"I know that this is not a direct benefit [to the CNMI] but by the efforts of the PBDC, having Midway open as an emergency landing airport is a PBDC effort.with the closure of Midway, we won't be able to land. If a commercial airplane needs to land, it won't be able to land anywhere and so it will crash in the ocean. And we have people aboard the plane, from the CNMI or Guam, obviously we're going to lose them," said Babauta.

Further, the chief executive noted that with the return of Hawaii as PBDC member, the organization can further pursue defense issues since Hawaii continues to play a central role in the defense posture of the Pacific.

"We don't necessarily bring home the bacon or money to the CNMI or to Guam per se but whatever Hawaii does also benefits us in a way that we can move the coast guard to our area for greater military presence, the monitoring of our EEZ and things like that," said Babauta.

The PBDC chief also disclosed plans to woo the state of Alaska as a fifth member, saying that the state's membership would only boost the group's standing as a regional organization.

Hawaii rejoined the group after about seven years of absence.

Babauta was recently in Hawaii to meet with Gov. Linda Lingle and American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono to discuss PBDC and governing issues.

He touted the new partnership with Hawaii as one that would give the group a wider range of resources to push for issues that will benefit the whole region.

PBDC is in the meantime gearing up for its next meeting this February in Washington D.C. where homeland security issues, among others, will be a part of the agenda.

The group was established by the governors of American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii and CNMI in 1980 to address regional economic and social concerns. It has been based in Honolulu even during the years when Hawaii dropped out of it.

February 2, 2004

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