CNMI Governor, U.S. Military Sign Tinian Divert Airfield Agreement

Torres worked hard to put interest of people in Marianas first

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 24, 2016) – Governor Ralph Torres and U.S. Pacific Command Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield on Thursday signed a programmatic agreement for the establishment of a divert airfield on Tinian.

The administration said the agreement is the product of continuous talks with the U.S. military which initially wanted a divert airfield on Saipan.

Witnessing the signing ceremony in the governor’s conference room were the Joint Region Marianas Commander, Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar; U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific Executive Director Craig B. Whelden; 36th Wing Andersen Air Force Base, Guam Commander, Brig. Gen. Douglas A. Cox; and CNMI officials including Tinian Mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas and lawmakers.

Crutchfield said the agreement went through more than 40 changes in order to address the issues raised by the governor and the CNMI people especially the residents of Tinian.

Since they started working together to draft the agreement in February, Torres “vigorously” put forward all those issues and explained why they matter a lot to the people of the CNMI, Crutchfield said.

Some of these issues were referred to the U.S. Defense secretary and deputy secretary, he added.

Crutchfield said the governor raised those issues in a respectful and honest manner and showed a willingness to work with the military.

“I want you to know that behind the scene, the governor was working hard for the people of the CNMI to make sure that your interests are heard, and they were heard,” Crutchfield said at the press conference Thursday following the signing of the agreement.

Crutchfield also gave credit to his team members —Bolivar, Whelden, Cox — and their CNMI counterparts “who worked hard to make sure these things happen.”

Torres acknowledged the work of his team including legal counsel Wes Bogdan, “who worked tremendously throughout the last four to five months addressing our concerns.”

The governor said the agreement “is monumental for all of us to show our military that we are supportive of their project and that the concerns have been addressed.”

The signing of the agreement, Crutchfield said, signals the start of the process in which the CNMI government is going to be involved every step of the way.

He said they can now move to a final environmental impact study that could be done in August, followed by the final Record of Decision in September.

“Those are the approximate dates. It takes 12 weeks from the time the [agreement] is signed. Everything starts with the signing of the [agreement]. Starting today, a process will work through, and the secretary of the Air Force will have to sign a Record of Decision. From there we will continue to work on other issues such as land that needs to be leased.”

The administration has yet to provide reporters with a copy of the agreement which still needs to be signed by other officials.

But according to the governor’s office, part one of the agreement lays out the roles of the parties while part two provides specific measures that will be followed with respect to the possibility of uncovering historical or archeological findings at Tinian West Field if and only if the Modified Tinian Alternative is selected, and this also involves an inventory of historic properties at the airport on Tinian.

Part three provides other basic measures to be followed for the Tinian Only Option — curation management and procedures to follow; monitoring processes; review process; and what to do with any human remains that may be found.

Brig Gen Greg Guillot, Pacific Air Force, director of strategic plans, requirements, and programs, said: “We value our partnership with Governor Torres and with the consulting parties; signing the Programmatic Agreement is an important step towards finalizing the PACAF Divert Activities and Exercises Initiative Environmental Impact Statement. We look forward to continuing this cooperative effort and reaching a Record of Decision serving the mutual benefit of meeting the defense needs of the United States and the needs of the CNMI.”

Mayor San Nicolas applauded the governor for his “steadfastness” and desire to come up with an agreement that reflects the sentiments of the people of Tinian and the rest of the CNMI.

“We have had several discussions about the need to address our concerns,” the mayor said, adding that he appreciates that both parties took into account the cultural sensitivities of the island.

In an interview, Mayor San Nicolas said the divert airfield will help Tinian’s ailing economy through the creation of new economic opportunities.

Marianas Variety
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I hope that the EIS has a strong focus on identifying and preserving the habitat of the endangered Tinian Flycatcher. Tinian Island is its only home, and it would be a tragedy if this project pushed it over the brink into extinction.

FY 2017 start of project.

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