Mayor Firmly Opposes Artillery Range On CNMI’s Tinian

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Dela Cruz says military encroachment into airspace ‘too much’

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 3, 2014) – Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz said the people of Tinian "will not accept an artillery range on our island," echoing House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero’s (Ind-Saipan) earlier call for the CNMI to make a stand now on the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) plan to use both Pagan and Tinian for live-fire training.

The Tinian mayor, in a Dec. 31 letter to the speaker, suggests a meeting with Gov. Eloy S. Inos to discuss what Dela Cruz describes as a "critical issue."

"Perhaps we can develop a position that best reflects our people’s desire and still support the military development of their leased lands on Tinian," Dela Cruz said.

Deleon Guerrero scored the CNMI’s lack of position on Pagan to this day. The speaker has been planning to author a resolution objecting to the use of Pagan for live-fire military training, among other things.

The U.S. military plans to use Tinian and Pagan to resolve its training deficiencies in the Western Pacific. Guam training areas are already being used to capacity.

Inos, in a separate interview, said the CNMI has not received any formal communication from the U.S. military about its plans for Pagan, among other things.

"Everything that’s been brought up with respect to Pagan is basically the EIS work that’s being done over there... I would be concerned with live fire training capability out there, that’s why we need to sit down with the military. We need to take into account also the desires of the community. I’m sure within the next couple of months, we will be sitting down and talking about a lot of these issues," the governor told Saipan Tribune.

Dela Cruz said the CNMI should address proposed amphibious training operations on Pagan and heavy artillery range on Tinian "now rather than later."

"I cannot speak for the people of Pagan but the people of Tinian will not accept an artillery range on our island. The encroachment on our airspace is too much to ask. We can deal with DoD [in] maximizing the development of their leased lands on Tinian within the terms of the Covenant and the original technical agreement. However, that will require us to fully develop the southern one-third of Tinian through private economic development," the mayor told the speaker.

He said Tinian cannot do this if the air space is limited, compromising the investments of the Commonwealth Ports Authority, the Federal Aviation Administration and Tinian people in the airport to support the gaming industry, "just as it is about to boom." Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino is the only operating casino in the CNMI right now.

"We can even make adjustments to support an Air Force-Navy-Marine Corps joint use ‘divert facility’ at West Field International Airport, but we cannot make adjustments for losing control over commuter services with Saipan [both sea and air]. This is critical to maximizing Tinian’s economic development potential," Dela Cruz added.

Two-thirds of Tinian lands are already leased to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Joint Region Marianas commander Rear Admiral Tilghman Payne earlier said that local residents’ concerns about the proposed use of Pagan for live-fire training are being taken into consideration.

DoD is also proposing to develop a U.S. Air Force divert airfield on Saipan, even as the CNMI is united in its position to have the divert airfield placed on Tinian. The U.S. military has not decided on the location yet.

A newly-signed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014 bars the U.S. Air Force from spending any of the $29.3 million for the program until it reports to Congress on all the alternatives that have been considered, the overall construction requirements, and the cost/benefits of options for the land needed.

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