WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Air Force officials announced on Feb. 11 the selection of Tinian as the preferred alternative for the Northern Mariana Islands Pacific Air Forces Divert Activities and Exercises Initiative. This is the modified Tinian-only alternative described in the revised draft Environmental Impact Statement. Saipan and a hybrid option were also in consideration and still remain reasonable alternatives.

The purpose of the initiative is to establish additional divert capabilities to support training activities, while ensuring the capability to meet mission requirements in the event access to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, or other Western Pacific locations is limited or denied.

The initiative will also improve the Tinian airport infrastructure to support up to 12 tanker aircraft and associated support personnel for divert operations. Periodic exercises would be conducted up to eight weeks per year.

“The divert initiative in CNMI will create the only divert airfield in the Western Pacific and provide the U.S. Air Force the capability to conduct either temporary or sustained refueling operations from an additional location in the region,” said General Mark Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force. “It will also give us another location to use when supporting contingency or natural disaster responses in the region.”

The EIS analyzes many factors for each alternative, including quality of life, noise, cultural and historical interests, safety, potential effect on natural and coastal resources, land use, effect on existing air traffic, effect on tourism and recreation.

“During the comment period, we heard from government agencies and community members on both Saipan and Tinian. They expressed an overwhelming desire to have the divert initiative on Tinian,” said Gen. Lori Robinson, commander, Pacific Air Forces.

The Air Force will release the final EIS in the spring, after which a record of decision will be signed.

— A version of this story was sent to Journal subscribers as a News Flash on Feb. 11.