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Fitial claims no ‘promised developments’ took place

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 2, 2012) – Gov. Benigno R. Fitial asked U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to initiate "direct discussions" on the future uses of U.S. military land on Tinian and "renegotiation" of the existing lease agreement between the CNMI and U.S. Department of Defense because none of the promised developments on the island has materialized for 35 years.

"Sadly, not a single element of the United States Department of Defense plan was ever implemented on the island and all of the United States land has been sitting idle for 35 years which has caused direct and significant harm to the community in four areas," Fitial told Panetta.

The removal of land from private use has inhibited economic development, Fitial said.

The other are: limitation of economic development has undermined the ability of Tinian's economy to be self-sustaining; uncertainty over possible military use has inhibited development of private land; and abandonment of the military infrastructure has caused a health and safety concern.

Fitial wrote the letter to Panetta on Feb. 27, but such letter was discussed with CNMI mayors only on Thursday afternoon, Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz told Saipan Tribune.

Two-thirds of Tinian land is leased by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Fitial said the U.S. made promises of development to Tinian 37 years ago in exchange for land rights, "and as of yet not a single element of development has occurred."

"These unfulfilled commitments have undermined the continued existence of this small insular community, and this requires restructuring of this agreement," Fitial told Panetta.

As of yesterday, there's been no response yet from Panetta to Fitial.

Tinian played a crucial role during World War II due to its strategic location.

Fitial said recognizing the importance of Tinian, the U.S. Defense Department wanted to maintain a right to use the island for future needs after the war and entered into a 100-year lease for some 65 percent of land on Tinian.

When the lease was initially established, it presumed the establishment of a large military presence as it provided for civilian and military cooperation in medical and education facilities, harbor and airport development, construction of a fuel deport and public utilities, base-exchange and commissary privileges, and economic opportunities, Fitial said.

"For these reasons, it is time to have a realistic and good-faith discussion on the future use of the island of Tinian by the United States. History has shown that the people of the Mariana Islands have a deep respect for the United States military, and we have always accommodated requests for our assistance," Fitial told Panetta in his two-page letter, a copy of which was obtained yesterday.

Back in September, the Tinian mayor-as a member of the CNMI Military Integrated Management Committee-asked the governor to provide support for negotiations on a new land development management agreement on U.S. Department of Defense leased lands on Tinian, for maintenance of roadways and historic sites.

But Tinian is bracing for roughly 175 U.S. Marines who could start training on Tinian as early as May 8 if the ongoing development of a scope of work goes as planned.

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