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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety) - The Arizona-based Azmar International Trading Inc. failed once more to convince Marianas Public Lands Authority to approve its request for a two-year permit to mine pozzolan – a type of ash - from the volcanic island of Pagan.

Kenneth Moore, president of Azmar, which stands for Arizona and Marianas, came all the way from Arizona for the supposed board meeting that would finally grant them the permit. His group has been working on the proposal for two years.

But board chairwoman Ana Demapan-Castro said the body would not decide on Azmar’s request because it wasn’t even in the agenda.

"There’s no action to be taken by the board....We don’t have anything on the agenda about Azmar," said Demapan-Castro during the break.

She did acknowledge that she heard the news that Azmar is anticipating the "deal to be done" yesterday.

"I was told this morning that it’s a done deal and I said I don’t know anything about that," she said.

Moore confirmed that someone, a very reliable source, told them that the permit would be decided yesterday so he took the effort to flew to the island, thousands of miles away from Arizona, to witness firsthand the decision to be made.

"I felt that to be a highly reliable source, indeed," he said.

But he declined to name the person saying, "I prefer not to comment at this time."

In an interview with Variety hours before the MPLA board’s meeting yesterday afternoon, Moore said: "It was brought to my attention that it was necessary to be here to receive the permit at this time. It is our understanding that the June 24 meeting is very significant."

At the meeting, the board heard testimony for and against the proposal to allow Azmar to mine and extract pozzolan, a rare additive ingredient in cement.

Cinta Kaipat, a labor hearing officer who is also the president of nongovernment groups United Northern Islands Association and Pagan Watch, said they want the board to create a task force to study the proposal before any firm is given permit.

Kaipat, a resident of the Northern Islands, which include Pagan, and others, were relocated to Saipan after the eruption of Pagan volcano in 1981.

But they want to return to their homeland if given the chance and the necessary support to live there.

"Where is our priority? We are an endangered species," said Kaipat.

"The only thing that we want is an opportunity to have a task force. Are they (Azmar’s group) necessarily the best plan for the CNMI? Let us bid this out. Let us be smart about it. The people are counting on all of you to do the right thing," she added.

Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero, former director of the Historic Preservation Office, said he does not oppose the mining of pozzolan in Pagan but he cautioned the board to deal with the right people.

He said he was threatened by Moore’s attorney in the past over an alleged false statement that he made, implying that Moore is disrespectful.

Moore for his part said he hired the attorney because he felt that the statement maligned his character.

"He (Guerrero) said I have broken some state and federal laws. That to me is a very damaging statement. We feel the need to have that addressed. I’ve been accused of pulling out a machine gun and the entire B-29...that was just fascinating," Moore said.

House Speaker Ben Fitial who earlier introduced a bill that calls for concerned authorities like MPLA to study pozzolan mining first before releasing the permit said he is scheduled to talk to Senate President Joaquin Adriano who recently said the Senate will "shelve" the bill.

Almost all members of the House were present at the meeting yesterday.

Moore said the University of Denmark and the University of Delaware have already come up with separate studies during the 1980s and 1990s about the presence of rich deposits of pozzolan on Pagan.

He said this is what convinced him to pour in fresh capital to engage into a mining venture in the area.

The businessman, who was a former banker, said the MPLA permit is just the first step to the many permits that they need to secure to start the project.

"When we have the MPLA permit, then and only then can we go for the CRM (Coastal Resources Management) permit, the environmental permit. This is the first step that we’re on right now," Moore said.

Don Farrell, the spokesman of Azmar on island said the CNMI has a lot of economic gains to receive if it will grant the permit.

Azmar’s total offer to the CNMI is 14 percent of its gross income, including the 7 percent royalty fee to MPLA.

Farrell added that Azmar is really serious and sincere on its intentions. The MPLA, he said, can always revoke the permit if Azmar commits any violations.

Moore said they aim to make their first shipment within 180 days from the day of receiving the CRM permit.

Right now, only JG Sablan has the license to mine and extract pozzolan from Pagan.

But even this permit is inactive because it has yet to settle its estimated over $300,000 arrears, according to Demapan-Castro.

She said the firm’s lawyer and MPLA’s counsel are currently under negotiation.

She said though that JG Sablan has no exclusive right to quarry in Pagan, thus, Azmar can be its competitor if the board grants the permit.

Millions of dollars are estimated to be generated by exporting pozzolan from Pagan – one of only three volcanoes in the world with rich pozzolan deposits.

June 25, 2004

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