U.S. PUTS $50 MILLION INTO MARSHALLS AIRPORT

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Runway improvements, fire trucks, infrastructure

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, May 21, 2010) - With the opening this week of a new safety and fire fighting facility in the Marshall Islands, the United States has injected more than US$50 million to airport improvements in this western Pacific nation.

[PIR editor’s note: There are other critical issues that are currently facing the people of the Marshall Islands. Recently "Yokwe" reported that there are "on-going hardships facing the Bikini people who have been in exile for over sixty years following removal in 1946 by the U.S. for its nuclear testing program". In addition, "the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food allocations are still based on 1,000 people, while the community now stands at 4,400." See previous story.]

The Amata Kabua International Airport’s new Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) facility, built at a cost of US$14 million, was hailed as a "milestone" for improving safety at an airport that regularly handles only one international carrier — Continental Micronesia — but sees dozens of aircraft each month stopping to refuel at this airfield that is roughly midway between the U.S. and Asia.

U.S. Embassy Charge Eric Watnik said Thursday that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has now invested more than US$50 million into improving the Majuro airport, including repaving the runway, installation of runway lights, purchase of new fire trucks, construction of the new ARFF building and ongoing training for safety and security personnel.

The FAA controls flights in the airspace of the Marshall Islands, which is a former U.S. territory.

When the ARFF facility was first proposed three years ago, U.S. officials in Washington balked at the high price tag for a fire fighting facility that would cost US$5 million to build in America, said FAA District Office Manager Ron Simpson, who is based in Honolulu. The bulk of the US$14 million cost was for landfill to create the space for the facility on what used to be lagoon water.

Simpson said when he realized that the US$14 million cost would be questioned by officials in FAA’s Washington headquarters, he took aerial photos of the location showing the lack of land on which to construct the facility, and circulated them to all people involved in the decision. The airport runway and a two lane road are bordered by ocean on either side in this nation of low-lying islands. When the American officials saw the proposed location for the facility, they quickly approved the additional funding, Simpson said.

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words," he said. "Those pictures sent to Washington were worth US$14 million."

He described the job done by contractor Pacific International Inc. in building the facility as a "very professional, quality job."

"The FAA mission is safety and emergency response capability in the region," Simpson said. With U.S. funding, "there has been a fundamental transformation at Amata Kabua International Airport."

Transportation Minister Kenneth Kedi called the dedication of the new facility a "milestone" for the Marshall Islands, and thanked the FAA for its support.

Watnik said the support from FAA is based on the "relationship embodied in the Compact of Free Association. This facility is another sign of the close and enduring relationship between the Marshall Islands and the United States."

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