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By Marian A. Maraya Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 9, 2001 – Saipan Tribune)---Plans to develop the Northern Islands into a full-scale economic realm are at a standstill following initial findings from U.S. Geological Survey scientists that show heavy volcanic activity on Pagan.

Based on a preliminary investigation, Volcanologist Frank Trusdell reported that of the four islands the Northern Islands Mayors Office is eyeing to develop, only Alamagan has had no recorded volcanic eruption.

Alamagan, therefore, is viewed safest in terms of development plans and resettlement.

But Pagan, which happens to be the key to the NIMO's economic development plan, was found to be the home of the most active volcanic activity up north.

Experts said they are lacking sufficient data right now to make solid recommendations with regard to NIMO's economic development plans for Pagan.

Trusdell noted that a six-month consistent monitoring of Pagan would have to be completed first.

He added that the team has to recover over a decade's worth of data, which could have been obtained earlier if only proper volcanic instrumentation had been maintained for the remote islands.

Scientists expect to finalize a study on the Northern Islands’ seismicity, ground formation and geology by December of this year.

Once the final report is completed, scientists promised to issue more information that would assist local authorities decide on whether to initiate major development as well as resettlement plans.

"The problem here is that there is a big lapse period in seismological data collection from 1999 to 2001," said Rep. William S. Torres, who met with the scientists yesterday for a briefing on their two-week visit to the Northern Islands.

According to Torres, plans to undertake full-scale economic development on Pagan need to be tackled with caution.

"The mayor may have to take this back to the drawing board and re-strategize it," said Torres.

USGS scientists recently came back from a two-week mission in the Northern Islands for a Volcano Hazard and Water Resources Assessment project.

There, the team was successful in getting the islands' seismic network up and running.

They re-established instrumental monitoring in an effort to enhance eruption forecasting.

The group installed a new seismic station and related facilities that were put in place for the sole purpose of monitoring all earthquake and volcanic activities in the CNMI.

The Northern Islands resettlement project is spearheaded by NIMO, the Emergency Management Office, the Department of Public Safety and the USGS.

In August, another group of scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is expected to conduct a study of the Northern Islands' existing flora and fauna.

Some $78,855 has been earmarked to fund the undertaking, with $60,000 coming from USGS regional headquarters and $10,000 to $15,000 in local matching funds.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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