[Pacific Daily News] Military plans $900M expansion in CNMI
The Department of Defense will conduct more studies before developing military training facilities on Tinian and Pagan islands as part of a broader plan for the Northern Marianas and Guam to become a major training hub under the U.S. Pacific Command.
The Marianas training facilities are expected to cost $900 million both in lease payments to the Northern Marianas government and for the cost of building the training facilities, which will be mostly on the island of Tinian.
Executive Director Craig Whelden of Marine Corps Forces Pacific provided the estimated price tag for developing a Northern Marianas training area for the military.
Japan plans to contribute $300 million to the $900 million cost of developing the Northern Marianas training facilities and hopes to be able to jointly use the facilities, Whelden said.
The $900 million estimate doesn’t yet have funding authorization from the U.S. Congress.
Whelden released the estimated costs for developing military training facilities in Tinian after recent concerns were raised in the Northern Marianas that Guam was getting the bulk of the military expansion spending.
In Guam, the military is building a brand-new, Marine Corps base on undeveloped land in the Finegayan area, a live fire training range complex and housing for the Marine families within the fence at Andersen Air Force Base.
The Defense Department recently released $300 million toward the start of construction for the Marine base.
Close to 5,000 Marines are being relocated from Okinawa to Guam several years from now. Japan is contributing $3.1 billion of the $8.7 billion cost to lessen the number of Marines in Okinawa by moving them to Guam. The $900 million cost estimate for the CNMI training facilities is part of the $8.7 billion.
Whelden said he expects to visit the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands early next year.
“Ultimately, our intent is to arrive at solutions that achieve mutually beneficial and sustainable growth, compatible/complementary presence, and shared interests with the people of CNMI,” Whelden said.
Whelden said the additional studies were prompted by comments made by Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands residents at a series of public meetings in the CNMI.
Some of the CNMI residents had voiced concerns that live-fire training exercises and sea-to-shore maneuvers could ruin corals, other marine life and wildlife habitat.
Pagan has twin volcanoes and is one of nearly a dozen largely uninhabited islands in the CNMI. The Defense Department for decades has been using another uninhabited island, Farallon de Medinilla, as a target for aerial and at-sea bombing exercises.
The military also leases about two-thirds of another CNMI island — Tinian — a 39-square-mile island which has a population of about 3,500.
The military is assessing how much time will be needed for the additional studies, but any delay isn’t expected to push back the arrival of almost 5,000 Marines who are being relocated from Okinawa to Guam, Whelden stated.
Because Marines are scheduled to arrive no earlier than 2021, we don’t expect this delay to have an adverse impact on our ability for those Marines to train in the CNMI, Whelden said.
The Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review, released last year, states that by 2020, the U.S. Navy plans to have 60 percent of its assets stationed in the Pacific.
Other plans in the region include increasing military presence in Guam, including boosting the presence of Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force service members and creating a rotational presence of Marine Corps forces in Darwin, Australia, the report states.