Marianas Variety

Last updateSat, 21 Oct 2017 12am

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    Friday, October 20, 2017-11:37:21P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

Torres: Military’s divert proposal places NMI in ‘awkward and uncomfortable position’

ACTING Gov. Ralph Torres has asked the military to withdraw its modified Saipan divert proposal and the hybrid modified alternative that would require the CNMI to lease Saipan property to the U.S.

In his comment on the revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Divert Activities and Exercises in the CNMI, Torres said the military’s desire to locate the divert project on Saipan places the CNMI in an “awkward and uncomfortable position of appearing to oppose or obstruct the United States defense-related responsibilities in the NMI” which is “not true.

As for the Divert Project’s Modified Tinian Alternative, he said it will require the U.S., “just as on the island of Saipan, to obtain property rights through a lease agreement to build its desired divert airport facility and training location.”

Ralph Torres

Torres said the CNMI has repeatedly expressed its willingness to immediately begin negotiations to lease the military the additional CNMI property necessary for this project to move forward on Tinian.

But, he added, “this proposal…continues to be discounted by the military because of costs and timing reasons and today the   CNMI must once again re-assert its limited sovereignty and determination that defense-related activities should be located on Tinian as explicitly intended and set out in the Covenant, the Technical Agreement and the real property leases.”

Accordingly, he said, “I must respectfully insist that the military withdraw Alternative 1 (the Modified Saipan Alternative) and Alternative 3 (the Hybrid Modified Alternative) which would require the CNMI to lease property to the United States on the island of Saipan. The CNMI will do everything possible to ensure the timing to create the divert field capacity (and costs involved) with the Modified Tinian Alternative resolved as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. In sum, the CNMI as a proud member of the American family fully intends to comply with the promises set out in the controlling legal documents.”

Torres went on to say that the “military’s desire to acquire property rights on Saipan via the [National Environmental Policy Act] process is, in the CNMI’s opinion, in conflict with the specific agreements contained in the Covenant, the Technical Agreement, the subsequent real property leases and the underlying spirit of the agreement by which the Northern Mariana Islands entered into a Covenant Agreement with the United States.”

Torres added, “[T]he same public property on Saipan wanted by the military is also the same public property identified by the CNMI’s port authority for future growth and commercial development at the Saipan International Airport. Competing interests to use the same property by different parties is heightened and a constant fact of life in our islands given the incredibly small landmass of the entire CNMI. The Air Forces effort to deconflict the competing use problem and to design the facility it wants to build on Saipan in such a way as to allow future development misses the larger, more significant point.”

Torres reiterated that the divert project should be located entirely on Tinian but “despite the CNMI’s government repeated efforts to dissuade the military from including Saipan in its plan, the Revised DEIS continues to do so.”

He added, “The agreement to restrict military activities to FDM and Tinian is contained not only in the Covenant but in additional legal documents such as the Technical Agreement and the subsequent real property leases. Under the Technical Agreement, Tinian was ultimately going to benefit through the establishment of a joint service air base on that island and as a result of infrastructural improvements that were going to take place.”

Still, he said, the CNMI government “welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the common good and to ensure that the military is able to carry out all its important missions in the Western Pacific from the location identified almost 40 years ago as the setting in which defense-related activities should be based.”