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By Edith G. Alejandro Staff Reporter

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (July 17, 2001 – Saipan Tribune)---The Strategic Economic Development Council has sounded the alarm over a further collapse of the CNMI economy, which is anticipated to seriously deteriorate between now and the year 2004.

This appraisal came as SEDC Destination Enhancement Committee Chair Marian Aldan-Pierce urged government officials and business leaders to "work together to alleviate a disaster just waiting to happen."

She warned that over a thousand government employees will be out of jobs if the SEDC's recommendations, submitted to Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio in December 2000, are not implemented.

"And this does not take into account the ripple effect it will have on the private sector.

"And this may happen three years from now," Aldan-Pierce told a recent conference on women.

"This is very scary," she added. "Never before have we been faced with anything remotely close to this.

"Now is the time to set aside political and personal differences."

Aldan-Pierce disclosed that the government anticipates a $40 million revenue shortfall due to changes in tariffs and quotas for apparel products manufactured in the Northern Marianas.

The SEDC, a private and public sector initiative tasked to develop a long-term economic recovery program, is now focusing on how to make tourism grow, as the Commonwealth tries to figure out other possible revenue-generating industries.

The council was established with a goal of raising $200 million in revenues between 2000 and 2004 to address the anticipated depletion of government coffers due to the expected $40 million shortfall.

Last year, SEDC submitted a working document to the governor. The document includes objectives, timelines, resources required, and responsible parties.

Among the recommendations for implementation is the Garapan Revitalization Project.

Aldan-Pierce said SEDC is now looking at ways to resolve the major concerns that affect the implementation of the Garapan beautification project. These include funding the deficit and improving the quality of beaches surrounding Western Garapan.

SEDC has also beefed up efforts to rid the Garapan area of garbage. The refuse adversely affects the drainage system and the quality of beaches around the hotel area, Aldan-Pierce said.

To effectively carry out the cleanup drive, she said that an ongoing project has been stepped up. It is being carried out in collaboration with the Department of Public Health and the Division of Environmental Quality.

"This is an ongoing problem. There are establishments dumping garbage anywhere in the Garapan area. We are looking into that matter," she said.

The project lacks sufficient funds to finance major beautification of the Garapan area, but Aldan-Pierce said that the project is still a priority.

The beautification plan includes the construction of a pedestrian mall, a permanent and a temporary koban (police box), special zoning and sidewalk extensions among other projects, which could cost the government close to $2.8 million.

The beautification project, which is phase one of the Garapan Revitalization Project, is projected to be completed in June 2002. The project is aimed at improving the district's landscaping, parking, traffic flow and lighting.

The Garapan Revitalization Project's design and construction cost is estimated to total over $21 million.

Initial funding of $2 million has been set aside for the program under the Capital Improvement Project Plan.

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

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