The Air Force knows it wants a new backup runway in the Marianas, it just doesn't know what island to build it on yet.
Existing airports on Saipan, Tinian or Rota could be transformed into an Air Force overflow facility, complete with a 10,000-foot runway with temporary housing for 500 support personnel, according to a public notice from the military.
This "divert runway" is needed to prepare for unscheduled landings when Andersen Air Force Base is unavailable, according to the notice. The Air Force wants to expand an existing airstrip instead of building a new one, and the facility must be within 170 miles of Andersen, so options have been narrowed to Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
The runway would also be designed to accommodate a squadron of 12 KC-135 aircraft, which are large tankers capable of refueling jets in mid air. It also will be used during large-scale military exercises and for humanitarian airlift staging during disasters.
"Specifically, the (expanded runway) is needed because there is not an existing airfield on U.S. territory in the western Pacific that is designed and designated to provide strategic divert and exercise capabilities for U.S. forces when needed around the globe and (for) humanitarian airlift in times of natural disasters," states the website for the proposed project.
A.B. Won Pat
This backup runway role is currently filled by the A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport, but without the temporary housing or squadron support.
"The Air Force is not a frequent user of the A.B. Won Pat International Airport, although it is an alternate airport, should their runways and terminals be closed for operations," wrote Guam international airport spokeswoman Rolenda Faasuamalie in an email.
"However, it is regular practice for them to perform test runs and touchdowns, in the event that it is necessary to land at our facility."
The transition to Saipan, Tinian or Rota is more than a year off, however.
According to a website about this project, the Air Force will not finalize its plan for the divert runway until December 2012.
Between now and then, the proposed project will run through a planning process required by the National Environmental Protection Act. This Environmental Impact Statement process is the same used to plan the military buildup on Guam.
One of the first steps is a series of public scoping meetings, the first of which will be held on Thursday at the Barrigada Mayor's Office. A second meeting will be held Friday at the Dededo Mayor's Office, followed by meetings in Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
Mayors will also meeting with the military on Thursday morning during a special meeting to discuss the project. Brig. Gen. Scott West, from Hickham Air Force Base in Hawaii, asked for the meeting with mayors in a Sept. 29 letter.
However, the public meetings held over the next two weeks will not be the only chance to comment on this Air Force project. After more details are released in the draft Environmental Impact Statement, more meetings will be held, according to the project website. Those meetings have not been scheduled yet.