SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 6) - The CNMI government says it does not have sufficient information regarding the full extent of military chemical contamination on Saipan, including maps and identification of formerly used defense sites.

This lack of data not only endangers human lives and the environment, but also results in the waste of money and resources for proposed projects that were denied after finding out that they are located in contaminated sites, according to Joaquin D. Salas, administrator of the Coastal Resources Management.

He said all formerly used defense sites need to be identified and mapped so that the Marianas Public Lands Authority, as well as other public and private agencies, would not choose them for future homestead developments and other projects.

This would avoid unnecessary waste of personnel time, energy and funds to hire consultants to put an application package together then the project is denied because the project is located on a formerly used defense site, Salas said.

MPLA Commissioner Henry S. Hofschneider, in a letter to Division of Environmental Quality Director John I. Castro, Jr., said if there were current data regarding formerly used defense sites, MPLA would have not chosen the I-Denni area on Capitol Hill for a proposed homestead subdivision. The area is contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs.

CRM regulatory agencies denied MPLA’s application for a major siting permit because of the PCB contamination.

"The permit denial was a frustrating undertaking, which could have been easily avoided, had DEQ had current records and activity reports for formerly used defense sites," said Hofschneider.

Salas said CRM will coordinate with DEQ to seek assistance on identifying formerly used defense sites for mapping, if none of the government agencies has any in place yet.

Rep. Gloria DLC. Cabrera, R-Saipan and vice chairwoman of the House Committee on Health and Welfare, urged DEQ to file an official letter of request to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand the current fuel farm metal sampling detection activities in Tanapag, to include other areas on Saipan.

Cabrera also requested latest information regarding wells and aquifers that are deemed contaminated with chemicals.

Castro, in a letter dated Dec. 27, said the Legislature should give DEQ "full support," especially in the area of funding, to be able to adequately address environmental problems.

DEQ’s fiscal year 2003 funding from both local and federal governments has been reduced.

"I request the Legislature to appropriate the additional funds to DEQ either through legislation, or by appropriating more funds to the executive branch that is strictly earmarked for environmental protection programs," Castro told Cabrera.

Cabrera, in an interview on Friday, said lawmakers also want to "work together" with DEQ to protect human health and the environment.

"If the responsible government agency cannot do its tasks due to lack of funding, then they should come to the Legislature and tell us exactly how much money they need, how many full time employees they need. If they don’t tell us, how are we supposed to know? We should really work together on this," Cabrera said.

Castro said how much of what DEQ can know and understand about hazardous substance contamination in the environment significantly depends on its ability to conduct sampling and analysis of all possible appropriate media like air, water and soil.

"Being understaffed and under-funded fundamentally limits our ability to carry out your request to conduct independent sampling," Castro told Cabrera.

January 7, 2003

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety.

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