ROTA REJECTS MILITARY REQUEST FOR AIRPORT EXERCISE

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U.S. aviation agency threatened to pull major funding

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 1, 2010) - Despite a promise of some US$33,000 in revenue for Rota, the Commonwealth Ports Authority turned down yesterday a proposal by the U.S. military to conduct parachute operations training on the island.

The decision was prompted by a Federal Aviation Administration threat to cut funding assistance for airport projects in the Commonwealth-worth over US$300 million-if the military’s proposal is approved.

CPA board chair Jose Lifoifoi and board member Benigno Sablan separately confirmed with Saipan Tribune the board’s decision in yesterday’s closed-door session.

Michael Simpson represented the U.S. Marine Corps at the meeting.

The proposal was not openly tackled at the board meeting. CPA officials said the matter was discussed in a closed-door session where they reached the decision.

"We have a lot of projects coming up for Rota and other airports. We will lose the funding for all of these projects if we will allow them [military] to conduct their operation in our airports, so we made the decision," said Lifoifoi.

Sablan said that FAA had advised and warned CPA of the consequence if they go through with the military’s plan.

"Our advice from FAA dictates that we do not approve it," Sablan said. "FAA said ‘if you let them jump, we will cut off your funding."

He said the federal agency was mainly concerned about "airspace."

Both board members said the FAA warning covers all airports run by CPA.

CPA was approached by 3D Reconnaissance Battalion for its parachute operations training.

The U.S. military had initiated negotiations with Rota Mayor Melchor Mendiola and other officials; however, any decision to use the airport lies with the CPA.

The same unit is currently doing other trainings on Rota and was seeking CPA’s permission to use the airport area for its parachute training operations.

It was learned that the unit wanted to use the Rota airport on Sept. 13 to 16, and was planning to conduct surveillance missions from Sept. 16 through 21 in the vicinity of At Matmos, Rota.

The training program requires two teams of seven members to do a parachute insert at the Rota International Airport and then move to At Matmos, Rota. Once this scenario is complete, the Marines will move back to the airport for pickup by the Navy’s H-60 series helicopters.

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