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By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 14) – The Marianas Public Lands Authority Board of Directors will hold discussions on the Mt. Pagan mining project tomorrow on Tinian instead of Saipan as originally scheduled.

In the meeting, the board is expected to decide on the permit application submitted by Azmar International, which is said to be willing to infuse $46 million to extract pozzolan and basalt on Mt. Pagan.

The area is reported to have as much as 200 million metric tons of natural deposit of pozzolan, a high-grade additive used in manufacturing cement.

The MPLA board aims to go ahead with the meeting even though its quorum would be affected with the absence of one of its members, Tinian's Manny Villagomez.

Villagomez, who serves as vice-chairman, is said to be off-island to attend to a family emergency.

The board is currently composed of chair Ana Demapan-Castro, Villagomez, Nicolas Nekai, and Benita Manglona.

When reached yesterday, MPLA said the board would still muster a quorum because Villagomez would be joining through a phone patch.

"It's going to be a teleconference," said the MPLA.

The meeting is set at 11am at Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino.

MPLA deputy commissioner Frank Eliptico said the board would discuss "everything" or the key issues surrounding the mining operation at Mt. Pagan.

Among others, MPLA needs to decide on J.G. Sablan's mining permit, which is considered void by some authorities due to its self-terminating clause in case of non-performance or inability to show proof of production at a given time.

J.G. Sablan, which received its permit in 1995, reportedly violated its contract terms since 1997. Despite that, the MPLA has never terminated the contract, unlike two other operators: CNMI Mining and Far East Company.

The 1995 agreement reportedly provides that "this permit shall terminate automatically should permittee fail to generate and/or report any revenue to government from its activities on the premises for two consecutive years."

Gov. Juan N. Babauta had earlier urged the MPLA to act on J.G. Sablan's permit following an appeal by Northern Island Mayor Valentin Taisakan for its immediate termination.

The mayor said permit clearance is necessary in view of the entry of capable investors and in its application for federal grants.

MPLA said that, besides Azmar, it received mining permit applications from other companies.

April 14, 2004

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