Tinian may be alternative for Marines on Okinawa

March 4, 2010

Pacific Island Tinian May Be Alternative for Marines on Okinawa

By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes

Pacific edition, Saturday, February 13, 2010

RELATED STORY: Japanese panel likes Tinian option

TOKYO — Attention, Marines: If you need a new home for those helicopters on Okinawa, give Tinian a call. The tiny mid-Pacific island is waiting to hear from you.

That’s the message from leaders on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, according to a spokesman for Gov. Benigno R. Fitial.

“We would be willing to consider any relocation the government would present to us,” said spokesman Tom Linden, who serves as coordinator of the commonwealth’s Military Integration Management Committee.

When asked Thursday if that could include permanently playing host to as many as 4,000 Marines and helicopters comprising air operations at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma — the focus of a U.S.-Japan stalemate involving relocation of the base on Okinawa — Linden said it depends on what Pentagon leaders ultimately want.

“If they wish, I guess it would,” he said during a phone interview.

It was not known what the military thought of the idea. A phone call to the Joint Guam Program Office, the military office on Guam charged with coordinating the buildup, was not returned Thursday.

Japanese officials on a committee to look at alternatives to hosting Marine air operations on Okinawa met this week with Guam officials and Fitial to discussed options there and on Tinian and other islands in the commonwealth. Under a 2006 U.S.-Japan military realignment pact, Japan is to pay nearly 60 percent of the projected $10.6 billion cost of relocating Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

Tinian’s interest in hosting U.S. military troops is a far cry from growing concerns on Okinawa and Guam, where the issues include, respectively, the continued presence and the impending arrival of thousands of Marines.

“We would like to see some military buildup in the area,” Linden said this week. “Tinian has been waiting for 30 years. They have been expecting to have a military buildup for quite some time.”

The Manhattan-size island, a major launching point for B-29 bombing missions of Japan during World War II, lies about 80 miles north of Guam.

So far, the military wants to use Tinian as a training area for the 8,600 troops from III Marine Expeditionary Force who are expected to move from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

That training would require four small-arms ranges and a 1,000-square-meter area to allow platoons to conduct maneuvering exercises, according to John Jackson, a retired Marine Corps colonel who is director for the Guam program office. As many as 300 Marines would come monthly for week-long training. They would bring their own supplies, set up their own tents and stay on their own land.

Some in the commonwealth, which consists of 15 islands including Saipan and Rota, say current military plans for Tinian aren’t mutually beneficial. Specifically, they say the Marines’ training proposal may not mitigate for what the local economy could lose — access to chili pepper crops, grazing lands and tourist attractions like the runway the B-29 “Enola Gay” used as it took off to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, according to Phillip Mendiola-Long, the current president of Tinian’s chamber of commerce.

“The chamber supports the buildup,” Mendiola-Long said during a phone call earlier this week. “But we have to have an equal partner. We’re going to start to slide.”

Yet it’s unclear, at this point, whether the Marines would be allowed any liberty time to spend money on the island. That’s what has some worried and looking for more military investment.

For more than three decades the military has leased nearly 28 square miles on Tinian, an area that covers two-thirds of an island that has fewer than 3,000 residents and no stop light. Past military training there was infrequent but significant, local and military officials said. Every two to three years, a few hundred troops would drop in for two to three weeks to train and spend money.

“The local hotels would fill,” Mendiola-Long said. “We’d run out of money in the ATMs.”

Vendors would sell food, and troops on liberty would gamble in the island’s sole casino, he added.

Between training sessions, the military land remained open to the public.

When the military announced nearly four years ago it would use Tinian for more frequent training, commonwealth leaders grew interested, Mendiola-Long said. But they found out late last year that the military plans for Tinian involve only expeditionary training.

The Marines “must be able to defend, deter, meet treaty obligations or any other contingency,” said Col. Robert Loynd, one of two Marines on Guam who currently make up Marine Forces Pacific (Forward) Guam, the unit proposed to grow to 8,600 Marines.

That could mean tourist areas could be closed for portions of the training, according to Jackson. It would periodically cut access to the island’s main north-south road, he added.

And, while military construction might add a couple hundred temporary jobs to the island, overall the military estimates it will need 12 to 15 full-time jobs to work security, clean out temporary toilets and cut back brush.

“We’re going to cut the grass and clean up the poo-poo?” said Mendiola-Long, with a hint of indignation.

Linden says Fitial is working with Guam leaders to find ways the proposed buildup could benefit Tinian more. The Futenma offer is part of those plans.

“The feeling is that Guam is getting all the money with very little lost,” Linden said. “On Tinian, the military is going to use more land, with next to no economic impact.”


Japanese panel likes Tinian option

By Chiyomi Sumida, Stars and Stripes

Pacific edition, Saturday, February 13, 2010

GINOWAN, Okinawa — A Japanese committee sent to Guam to review possible sites for relocating a Marine Corps air station from Okinawa, wrapped up their two-day visit Thursday with a clear sense that Guam already has too much on its plate.

But they left encouraged with the island of Tinian, 80 miles to the north, as a possible site to move some military training, according to Diet member Mikio Shimoji, a representative from Okinawa and part of the 23-member delegation that toured Guam bases and spoke with island officials.

Shimoji said the governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, Benigno Fitial, told him that he would like to make four of the 15 islands in the commonwealth available for U.S. military training. Shimoji said he was unable to visit Tinian, but did spend two hours Wednesday with Fitial and other officials on Saipan.

“It was very encouraging,” Shimoji said in a telephone interview upon his return to Tokyo on Thursday evening. “While Okinawa will continue to host military bases, risk-sharing is important.”

He said the panel also was handed a resolution passed by the Guam legislature that states the current plan for the massive military buildup on Guam needs to be restudied because of the islanders’ concerns for the environment and impact on the local population

The plan is part of a military realignment pact the U.S. and Japan struck in 2006. Under the agreement, Japan would pay $6.1 billion of the projected $10.6 billion cost to relocate Marines to Guam from Okinawa

Shimoji said the panel will relay the resolution to Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, along with Guam Gov. Felix Camacho’s statement that Guam could not handle any more than the 8,000 Marines already scheduled to transfer to the island.

Shimoji said he pledged to be a voice for Guam in the Japanese Diet.

“Besides the Marines and their families from Okinawa, Guam is expected to accept thousands more,” he said, indicating the island’s population will bulge with construction workers and other personnel to support the buildup. “Under those circumstances, it is not appropriate to add further troops to Guam.”

Japan eyes Northern Marianas for relocating 4000 U.S. troops

February 11, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Relocation of up to 4,000 US troops to CNMI mulled

By Haidee V. Eugenio


Visiting Japanese lawmakers said yesterday they may recommend the relocation of 2,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops from the aviation units at Futenma in Japan to the CNMI, on top of the 8,000 Marines to be relocated from Okinawa to Guam, said Senate Pres. Paul A. Manglona (R-Rota).

National Diet or Japan Legislature members Mikio Shimoji, Tomoko Abe, and Ryoichi Hattori met with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, House Speaker Froilan C. Tenorio (Cov-Saipan), and Manglona at the Saipan airport yesterday afternoon, on their way to Guam.

Shimoji, Abe, and Hattori are part of the 23-member Japanese government delegation arriving on Guam for what Fitial described as a “fact-finding” visit, particularly to see if there’s suitable place on Guam for more U.S. troops to be relocated off Okinawa.

This is in addition to the estimated 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents who are expected to be relocated by 2014, although Guam Gov. Felix P. Camacho asked for the military buildup to be delayed until after 2014.

Fitial and other CNMI officials were one in saying they welcome the relocation of U.S. troops to the Commonwealth provided the U.S. government consents to such move.

“We’re not offering them anything. We’re just telling them we welcome them, provided that the U.S. government consents or concurs,” the governor said.

Manglona and Fitial clarified that there is no definite plan to move U.S. troops to the CNMI, but it’s one of the options being looked at.

“Shimoji said they will recommend moving troops to the CNMI. He gave the range. It could be 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000,” he said.

Guam trip

Fitial will travel to Guam to attend today’s meeting between Guam officials and the visiting Japanese delegation led by Yorihisa Matsuno, deputy chief Cabinet secretary of the Japan Diet.

The three Japanese lawmakers who made a stopover on Saipan were major players in the relocation talks. Shimoji is the policy chief of the People’s New Party, one of the tripartite ruling coalitions in Japan, while Abe is the policy chief of the Social Democratic Party. Hattori is also with the Social Democratic Party.

“They’re looking at all options, including Guam and the CNMI. I will be listening to what Guam has to say. As I said, I welcome them provided that the U.S. government concurs,” Fitial said.

Manglona said Tinian has been waiting for decades to welcome military presence on the island.

“It seems they have been listening to the people, as they prepare to meet with the U.S. government. We made it clear to the Japanese lawmakers that the CNMI is open, but we defer making decisions to the U.S. government,” Manglona said.

Fitial said as with all other existing relocation plans, any cost to move troops to the CNMI should not be borne by the CNMI.

Both the CNMI and Guam governors had said that socio-economic impacts are the major concerns when it comes to the massive military buildup on Guam, and Fitial said this is also true with any plan to relocate U.S. troops to the CNMI.

Fitial said Japanese lawmakers wanted to visit the CNMI again to see for themselves any room for U.S. troops to be relocated.

Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) said Tinian welcomes any plan to relocate U.S. troops to the island, two-thirds of which is leased by the U.S. Department of Defense.

“The lease makes it easier for them to come here. We certainly welcome the plan or the option of choosing the CNMI as a site for relocating U.S. troops from Japan,” said Hofschneider, who is the chairman of the Tinian Legislative Delegation.

Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz earlier said that an expected decrease in civilian tourist arrivals to the island as a result of he massive buildup should be mitigated by an increase in military personnel and their families’ visit to Tinian for rest and recreation.

Dela Cruz also said the military should ensure an effective quarantine system to prevent brown tree snakes, rhinoceros beetles, and other invasive species from entering Tinian.

‘Stretch out and spread out’

Sen. Judith Guthertz of Guam, in a Jan. 28 letter to Joint Guam Program Office executive director David Bice, recommended stretching out and spreading out the relocation of U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam.

She said the U.S. military should consider relocating the First Marine Aircraft Wing aviation command from Futenma to Tinian and Agrigan or the Goat Island in the CNMI.

“This command numbers about 4,000. The mayor of Tinian and Agrigan has already asked the U.S. military to consider these islands for the buildup. Agrigan is uninhabited and the federal government already has a long-term lease for the northern two-thirds of Tinian,” she told Bice.

Guthertz, who chairs the Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security, said the Marines’ movement should be spread over eight years instead of only two years from 2014.

Lastly, she suggested the reduction in size of the movement to Guam by 50 percent-for about 4,000 active duty Marines.

“This would still provide a greater than 100 percent jump in footprint, but provide a greater welcome mat for our Marines,” she told Bice.

The Futenma issue has become a sticking point in the military realignment talks.

The recent election of an anti-base mayor in Nago made it more difficult to move Marine air operations and led to a growing sentiment among Okinawans to move Futenma operations outside Okinawa and outside Japan.

US military may displace 30 Tinian farmers

April 10, 2009

30 Tinian farmers, ranchers may be displaced by the US military

3 april 2009

By Moneth Deposa

A significant number of farmers, ranchers, and hog raisers on Tinian are expected to be displaced if the U.S. military decides to fully utilize the property it leased on the island.

According to the Tinian Legislative Delegation, up to 30 ranchers and farmers-about 80 percent of the island’s agriculture sector-would be affected and the municipality needs to find a site soon for their relocation.

Delegation chair Sen. Joseph Mendiola said final plans detailing what specific part of Tinian will be used for military exercises and training will be presented to the island’s leaders in July.

The U.S. military holds the lease to about two-thirds of available land on Tinian.

“We don’t know yet the final plans for Tinian. Up to this time, we’re still waiting word from the military, which is also coordinating with the municipality and the governor. [There is] no final word yet if all two-thirds of Tinian would be used for their training sites,” he said.

Without the military’s confirmation, the delegation cannot plan for the future of its farmers and ranchers, Mendiola said.

Although the Tinian community is counting on the positive economic impact of the buildup, they are also concerned about possible displacement.

“A lot of farmers and ranchers would be displaced if they [U.S. military] decide to use the entire two-thirds of Tinian,” Mendiola said

The senator said some public lands on Tinian may be identified as new sites for the farmers and ranchers.

If it were up to him, Mendiola said, he prefers that the military use the North Field as an exclusive military training ground.

He added that the island’s airport is close to the U.S. military’s leased property and problems may arise if the area is used for live-fire training and other military exercises.

The transfer of some 8,000 Marines from Okinawa, Japan to Guam starting in 2012 is projected to benefit the CNMI, particularly Tinian.

However, Mendiola said, even the approximate number of U.S. Marines who will be assigned to Tinian is not known yet.

“Even that number is not available to us.we’re still on a ‘waiting game,'” he said, adding that whatever recommendation the CNMI leadership may have for the military would be supported by the delegation.