Marianas Variety

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    Saturday, November 25, 2017-8:47:05P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

Feds may invoke eminent domain in divert airfield proposal

WITH the U.S. Air Force still pursuing the construction of a divert facility on Saipan rather than Tinian, the CNMI government may continue to negotiate and object to such a proposal; however, the U.S. may invoke the power of eminent domain.

Variety consulted with Tinian Mayor’s Office chief of staff, local historian and military veteran Don Farrell on his opinion regarding the ongoing proposal to use Saipan for divert Air Force activities.

Asked if the Northern Marianas can object to the Air Force putting the facility on Saipan, Farrell said, “Of course the CNMI can object. This is still a democracy. And in a democracy civilian authority overrules military authority. The CNMI is only in the early stages of dealing with the Air Force proposal. There is plenty of time for cordial negotiations.”

Variety learned that an earlier communication between U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan and Tinian Mayor Ramon M. Dela Cruz indicated the U.S. Air Force’s preference for Saipan.

In response to Dela Cruz’s letter, Sablan wrote, “According to the Department of the Air Force Office of Legislative Liaison, the Air Force still prefers to construct the divert facility on Saipan, as announced in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement released in June 2012.”

Sablan also said although there are two phases, the U.S. Air Force stated that these phases cannot be separated between two different locations.

The House Armed Services Committee, he said, did not zero out funding but approved funding for all three Air Force construction projects on Saipan.

This, however, will require the Air Force to acquire the necessary land.

It was earlier revealed that the Air Force will be needing an additional 33 acres of land on Saipan.

In this regard, Farrell weighed in on the proposed use of additional land.

“The Covenant does provide that ‘in the event it is not possible for the United States to obtain an interest in real property for public purposes by voluntary means, it may exercise within the Commonwealth the power of eminent domain to the same extent and in the same manner as it has and can exercise the power of eminent domain in a State of the Union,’ ” said Farrell.

For Farrell, the CNMI can object and hopefully negotiate an acceptable alternative.

“But, if the Department of Defense can prove to the United States Congress that it needs the land, then the land could be taken,” said Farrell.

As to whether the U.S. Air Force may still change its position and revert to the CNMI’s preferred use of Tinian, Farrell said, “Anyone who reads Howard Willens’ excellent analysis of the CNMI political status negotiations knows that the military establishment is human and can change its mind. As the American delegation entered the CNMI political status negotiations in 1972, DoD had five different alternatives at hand. They took a tough first stand, and made concessions that led to a successful compromise — democracy. As with any good contract, both sides ended up satisfied with what they got.”

As to what tilted the balance in favor of having the divert facility on Saipan, Farrell said, “Apparently cost was the major factor in deciding that Saipan was the ‘preferred alternative,’ although CNMI officials have not been able to verify this claim. The Draft EIS was written by a private firm contracted by the Air Force.”

Farrell said had the CNMI commissioned the same study there could have been a different conclusion.

As to how the CNMI might convince the U.S. Air Force to change its position, Farrell said, “You will remember that we went through an EIS with the Navy three or four years ago. The Navy’s Record of Decision called for rifle ranges to be constructed on Tinian. When it got to the United States Senate, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Carl Levin, and Senator Jim Webb (both of whom had visited Tinian), halted the funding. They wanted to see a more streamlined Marine Corps plan for the Pacific realignment. They did this to save money for American taxpayers. Senator Levin told me that 25 percent of the men in his district (Detroit) were out of work.”

Farrell continued saying that America is in “sequestration.”

“It is doubtful that the Senate Armed Forces Committee would smile on the Air Force requesting funding for a refueling system and ammunition storage facility for a handful of aircraft to be on Saipan for only 8 weeks out of the year, while the Marine Corps is requesting funding for a refueling system to train Expeditionary Air Operations on Tinian,” he added

US pivots  

Farrell believes that both the the Air Force Divert Facility and the Marine Corps Training Center on Tinian are necessary components of the new Department of Defense’s global re-posturing.

“The public should always be reminded that it was because the United States was unprepared for war in 1941 that Japan felt they could force the western powers out of Asia and leave the management of Asia to Asians. Had the American isolationists of the 1930s come to recognize the aggressive elements that were developing in both Asia and Europe and properly prepared America for war, then perhaps the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy would have thought twice about their decision to go to war. That failure ended in the calamity of the Pacific War.”

He explained that while the geopolitics of the region has changed.

“The obligation to have a military force capable of deterring another Pacific War remains. Japan was America’s ally in World War I, then our enemy in World War II. Today, Japan is America’s strongest ally in Asia. Japan is the foundation of America’s current Pacific policy and America is now encouraging Japan to re-arm.”

He added that China was America’s first ally in World War II.

“China is not our ‘enemy’ today. Yet, China is spending billions on military expansion in the Pacific and causing our allies on the Pacific Rim great dismay. It is in America’s best interest, and certainly in the best interests of those of us who live on the tip of the spear, to have a strong and well trained military force in the Pacific. Peace has been maintained in the Pacific through strategic deterrence, having the power to react effectively to any challenge, anywhere, under any conditions,” he said.

Farrell finds it critical to have the Marines stationed in the Marianas.

“Stationing Marines in the Marianas is critical to this plan, but they must be able to maintain their fighting edge. Having a strategic air wing stationed in the Marianas, with effective resiliency on a neighboring island, provides the ultimate combination to deter a friend from becoming a foe,” he explained.

According to Farrell, the Marianas have become the focus of the “Pivot to the Pacific,” because the Mariana Islands are sovereign American soil.

“The decision to provide backup bases in the Marianas developed as a result of Japan’s desire to move American military bases out of Okinawa when it reverted to Japan in 1972. The loss of the bases in the Philippines in the 1980s due to an internal revolution settled the question for the U.S. Congress. The movement from Okinawa to the Marianas is integral to the US-Japan alliance. So both the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the Territory of Guam are the focus of a general military realignment,” he said.

Tough decision

In Farrell’s view, the Northern Marianas leadership is faced with a difficult decision on the U.S. Air Force’s pursuit of Saipan as its preferred airfield for divert activities.

In his address before Lions Club members last Saturday at the Tinian Dynasty, Farrell shared some details regarding the meeting the Military Integration Management Committee had with the visiting Pacific Air Forces representatives over the proposed divert airfield.

“I think it is going to be a very difficult decision for our leadership to make,” said Farrell as he referred to the U.S. Air Force’s decision to pursue the Saipan airport alternative.

Farrell said, “Certainly our leaders, are faced with a very difficult decision as to whether or not to lease an additional 33 acres of land at the Saipan commercial airport to the DoD for the next 50 years”

He said the land that encompasses CPA at the formerly known Isely Field on Saipan “is very restricted.”

For Farrell, the meeting with the PACAF representatives wasn’t good saying that the Air Force “has definitely decided they are going to push forward with the development of the divert facility on Saipan rather than on Tinian.”

The CNMI leaders had earlier conveyed their unanimous position that the divert facility be constructed on Tinian where there would be fewer mitigating factors to deal with.

Despite this decision by the U.S. Air Force, Farrell said the MIMC, in the spirit of one commonwealth, would support the decision to proceed with the construction of a divert facility on Saipan.

“We agreed that should the Air Force decide to build their facility on Saipan, we would certainly not oppose it,” he said.

Farrell said the planned divert facility would mean a $30 million to $50 million contractual development of the facility.

“Whether it’s built on Tinian or Saipan, the revenues generated from those expenditures will go to the general fund. It is of benefit to the CNMI,” said Farrell.

Among the reasons to oppose the construction of the facility at the Saipan airport is the potential for divert activities to impact historical resources at the airport.

Even before it became known as Isely Field, it was Aslito Airfield during the pre-war era.

It was the first operational airfield in Micronesia, where in 1933 a squadron of 10 Mitsubishi B2M1 carrier attack bombers shipped from Tateyama, Japan took off from Aslito and headed to Pagan as part of the Special-Great Exercise conducted in the Marianas-Ogasawara area.

Despite the U.S. Air Force rejecting the Tinian alternative, Farrell celebrated the news that the Marines are preparing for their next expeditionary exercise in December this year.

He announced to the Tinian community that the Marines are planning to stage Exercise Forager Fury II with 100 additional Marines compared to the last Forager Fury in December 2012.

He welcomed yet another community relations project that will help members of the community get dental and medical assistance for free.

He also welcomed the Marines implementing a buy-local policy.

Aside from this, Farrell said the Marines will be clearing the runways and taxiways at North Field.

There are four 8,500 feet runways at North Field; however, due to the limitations of transporting their heavy equipment to Tinian, they were only able to rehabilitate partially the Baker Runway where the Marine Aircraft Group 12, Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 successfully landed a KC-130J Hercules aircraft, the first since 1947.

He pointed out that this military exercise will also be a big boost to tourism.

“We expect to have a very good working relationship with the Marine Corps,” said Farrell.

MAG-12 executive officer Lt. Col. Thomas Frederick and Lt. Lt. Col. Keith Topel met with Governor Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider last week and apprised them of their intent to conduct another expeditionary exercise on Tinian.

Frederick said the Marines may start arriving on Saipan and Tinian in early November.

He also said they are considering stationing some Marines on Saipan.