VETERANS Day was the perfect day for this veteran to remember how and why Tinian’s representatives to the Covenant negotiations worked with their colleagues from Saipan and Rota to develop not only the Covenant that created the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, but also its Technical Agreement, dealing with the Department of Defense land lease on the northern two-thirds of Tinian.
Ever since the end of World War II, the people of the Northern Marianas District of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands or TTPI had been working toward the post-World War II political status they wanted, not one dictated to them by the United States. Their efforts had been frustrated by a rule adopted by the United States and the United Nations requiring the entire TTPI to make one political status decision for all six states: the Northern Marianas District, the Marshall Islands District, the Palau District, the Pohnpei District, the Chuuk District, and the Yap District. Because all six districts had completely different cultural heritages, with distinctly different languages, all efforts had failed. In 1969, all except the Northern Marianas District decided they did not want to become U.S. citizens. They were looking toward a new political status called Free Association, putting them on a track toward independence. The Northern Marianas District, on the other hand, had stated many times they wanted a permanent relationship with the United States, including U.S. citizenship.
The people of the Northern Marianas got excited when suddenly in 1971, Franklin Haydn Williams, President Richard Nixon’s personal representative to the Micronesian political status negations, announced that the United States would break the rule and negotiate political status with the Northern Marianas District, separately from the other districts of the TTPI.
While the Covenant was being negotiated, the Northern Mariana Political Status Commission also agreed that there needed to be an agreement attached to the Covenant outlining how the federal government and the people of the new Commonwealth could meet regularly and discuss problems that might develop with the implementation and maintenance of the DoD land lease on Tinian. A twelve-member committee was selected from the Covenant delegates to negotiate the Technical Agreement, including former mayor of Tinian Jose R. Cruz and Bernard Hofschneider, also from Tinian. The Technical Agreement was signed on February 15, 1975, the same day the Covenant was signed.
According to PART III of the Technical Agreement, SOCIAL AND CIVIL INFRASTRUCTURE ARRANGEMENTS, “The following provisions, unless modified in writing by mutual agreement of the duly authorized representatives of the United States Government and the Government of the Northern Mariana Islands, will govern the future relations between the United States military forces in the Northern Mariana Islands and the civil authorities thereof. Coordination on these arrangements will be accomplished through a Military Advisory Council organized as soon as required after implementation of this Agreement.”
This advisory council has never been implemented, even though the people of Tinian have requested it repeatedly. The original roads in the lease area have become potholed to the point where it is interfering the island’s desire to become a tourist destination. Rental cars are easily damaged, while busses must slow down to negotiate the potholes. Local residents working for the International Broadcasting Bureau near North Field, must dodge potholes to get to and from work, day and night, and buy new tires more often than ordinarily. Similarly, neither the federal government nor the local government have made a serious effort to maintain the tourist sites within the North Field National Historic Landmark, which is in the Exclusive Military Use zone. The Tinian cattlemen want to extend their leases on cattle ranches within the Leaseback Area from the current year-to-year lease to a longer term that will allow further investment in the cattle industry. These issues could be dealt with, if the advisory council was in place.
Now we hear that the contracts for the construction of the Air Force Divert Facility on Tinian will be awarded shortly. This will cause considerable problems for Tinian. Although it will provide a short-term windfall for existing businesses on the island, and those that have arrived in the last year, it is causing a sudden increase in the cost of housing, the cost of living, and further damage to Tinian’s infrastructure, particularly roads, and water and power systems. Unfortunately, the Advisory Council has never been implemented, and, therefore, the people of Tinian have no platform from which to address their concerns.
Next year’s Commonwealth general elections are already gearing up, with three candidates having announced their intention to run for governor; incumbent Gov. Ralph Torres, his Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios (both Republicans), and Rep. Tina Sablan (Democrat). The incumbent governor has already turned down requests from Tinian to establish the council, keeping all Office of Insular Affairs grants relative to military actions on Tinian in his own office on Saipan. Palacios and Sablan have yet to announce their platforms. Should either, or both, publicly state that they would establish the Council if elected, it should make for an interesting election, and, perhaps, the establishment of the Tinian Civilian-Military Advisory Council. It would be a great step forward for Tinian, and the Commonwealth.
The writer is a resident of Marpo Heights, Tinian.