CNMI OFFICIALS ARGUE OVER TINIAN MILITARY LEASE

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Renegotiation demands may risk revenues from military

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 4, 2012) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI), Tinian Mayor Ramon M. Dela Cruz told Gov. Benigno R. Fitial that there is no need to renegotiate the existing 100-year Tinian land lease with the U.S. Department of Defense in light of the progress made by the island in military relations, as well as the upcoming training of over 150 U.S. Marines from Japan, among other things.

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

Dela Cruz said they do not want to "disturb" the current relationship with Defense and it should only be "enhanced."

"In other words, Tinian's future relationship with the Department of Defense, and especially with our friends at Joint Region Command, looks very bright. We do not wish to disturb it. We only want to enhance it," Dela Cruz told Fitial on Monday, a few days after learning of the governor's Feb. 27 letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday.

In that letter, Fitial asked 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 Defense because none of the promised developments on the island has materialized for 35 years.

The governor has yet to receive a response from Panetta.

Fitial, in an interview yesterday, said he has yet to see Dela Cruz's letter, but said the lease renegotiation request to Panetta was the "consensus" of the Military Integration Management Committee, in which the Tinian mayor was a member.

"He came late. His representative at the time was Lucy Blanco-Maratita," Fitial told Saipan Tribune, when asked why the Tinian mayor was not notified of such a request beforehand.

Dela Cruz, in his two-page letter to Fitial, said this request for renegotiation of the lease is not what the mayor had in mind when he wrote to the governor on Sept. 27, 2011, requesting help working with U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Paul J. Bushong to provide funding to "properly maintain roadways on Tinian" and to establish a liability protocol "for accidents that might occur on military leased lands."

"I would like to make it very clear that Tinian has made great progress in military relations over the last two and half years. We successfully negotiated a programmatic agreement with the Navy for maintaining the National Historic Landmark at North Field, which you approved and forwarded up to the chain of command," Dela Cruz told Fitial.

Last week, representatives of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command met with the Tinian mayor and his staff to discuss an agreement that will provide some $30,000 to maintain specific sites within Tinian's National Historic Landmark boundaries, the mayor said. He hopes to conclude this agreement this month.

Dela Cruz said he also met with representatives of the Marine Air Group 12, which is planning a permanent training facility on Tinian.

He said if the Marine Air Group 12 receives the required permission from the CNMI State Historic Preservation Officer, Melvin Faisao, their advance team will arrive on May 3.

Another 150 U.S. Marines will arrive from Japan shortly after by high-speed motor vessel.

"The heavy equipment they are bringing will not only build their training area, but also provide the people of Tinian with an opportunity to have many of the existing roadways and historic sites on other military leased lands cleared and improved," Dela Cruz told Fitial.

He added that this will infuse considerable sum of new cash into the CNMI economy on Tinian and Saipan twice a year for the foreseeable future.

Tinian, the mayor said, is also expecting that the proposed Air Force Divert Base will be built on Tinian, as the governor and all mayors have recommended.

The Divert Base will help complete the facilities necessary to make Tinian West Field Airport a "true international airport," and therefore increase revenues for the CNMI.

Tinian is also expecting that at least a major portion of the Third Marine Division will be moved from Okinawa, Japan and that they will want to train on Tinian, as Congress continues to insist they will, "when a proper long-term plan is accepted."

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