CRM board delays vote on Airport Road project

MAKING THE CALL: The Coastal Resources Management Agency Board members listen to a Department of Public Works official during a meeting Thursday in the CNMI governor’s conference room. Emmanuel T. Erediano/For The Guam Daily Post

SAIPAN – The Coastal Resources Management Agency Board on Thursday did not vote on the Department of Public Works application for a major siting permit for the reconstruction of Airport Road on Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The CRM Agency Board, chaired by Division of Coastal Resources Management Director Janice E. Castro, took into consideration the concerns of residents who want the government to address the perennial problem of flooding in the area.

Present at the meeting were Division of Environmental Quality Director Jonathan Arriola, Historic Preservation Officer Rita Chong-Dela Cruz, special assistant to the secretary of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources Gus Kaipat and Department of Commerce State Trade Expansion Program project coordinator Kioshi Cody.

Also in attendance were members of the Tenorio, Guerrero and Torres families, as well as other residents of Airport Road.

Department of Public Works highway engineer Henry Bautista and highway administrator Lorraine S. Villagomez were also present to answer questions from the board members regarding the residents’ concerns.

DCRM Director Janice E. Castro said, due to the “voluminous” number of comments from the public expressing concern about the road improvement project, she asked the board to “hold off” making a decision on the permit application.

DEQ’s Arriola agreed while DLNR’s Kaipat said there was a need for “more time” to give DPW the opportunity to seek more funding and come up with a proper plan.

For her part, HPO’s Chong-Dela Cruz said the concerns of the residents are legitimate, so “we have to deal with that,” adding “it is our fiduciary duty to make sure the environment is protected.”

The Airport Road improvement project was first proposed in 2000, with an engineering design that included an off-site drainage system and culverts to mitigate flooding.

The residents are concerned about DPW’s request to amend CRM’s existing major siting permit, which requires the construction of an off-site drainage system to mitigate flooding in the area.

If DPW cannot build an off-site drainage system, residents said it should be allowed only to resurface the road.

Residents said they are also concerned about an “in-house” design that will reduce the number of drainage chambers to four from eight.

According to DPW highway engineer Bautista, the design, which includes an off-site drainage system, will cost the CNMI government $10 million to $15 million.

Bautista said DPW’s “in-house” design for the Airport Road improvement involves resurfacing 4,200 feet of the road from the Iglesia Ni Cristo intersection to Herman’s Bakery, with an on-site drainage system that includes storm tanks, curb and gutter.

He said this will cost only $1.7 million.

If the residents would allow the resurfacing of the road only, the cost will be $1.5 million.

Asked if the delay in the implementation of the road project would affect federal funding, highway administrator Villagomez said no, because DPW could request an extension of the expenditure timeline.

Because of all the issues presented to the board, it will have to ask DPW to submit supplemental information for its application for a major siting permit.

DCRM Director Castro said the supplemental information will be reviewed by the board before it can come up with an informed decision, “therefore there will be no vote today.”