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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 6) – The Marianas Public Lands Authority board of directors on Friday unanimously rejected Azmar International’s application for a mining permit on Pagan Island due to its failure to submit necessary documents despite the two-year period that had passed since its request was first entertained.

On Nov. 16, the MPLA board agreed to hold a 15-day "open negotiation" regarding Azmar’s mining application despite its failure to submit requested documents.

The Arizona-based mining venture sought to mine volcanic ash from the remote Northern Marianas island as a bonding material to make concrete.

But during that 15-day period, board chairwoman Ana Demapan-Castro said Azmar International Trading Co. CNMI, Inc. failed to deliver what MPLA asked of it and, worse, made numerous changes in MPLA’s proposed draft mining permit agreement.

"The board members have made their decision. They have done a lot of intensive work. I believe that based on what they have seen and what they have reviewed, it calls for a denial. Submissions were not made. Requirements were not met. That was our concern," said Demapan-Castro in an interview.

Azmar’s spokesperson, Don Farrell, said Friday’s meeting was "premature" and was a complete surprise for them.

He insisted that the 15-day open negotiation should be based on working days not calendar days.

".... The 15 days given for negotiations following the last board meeting should have been 15 working days, not 15 calendar days. There was a weekend immediately following the meeting, then the Thanksgiving holiday, followed by another weekend," said Farrell in a statement.

"I cannot discuss the draft because I signed a confidentiality statement obligating me not to make such comments. I feel that the negotiation period has not yet expired. I have every confidence that Mr. Moore and Mr. Finley will be in contact with Mr. (Allan) Lane (MPLA’s legal counsel) immediately to discuss the situation....," he added.

Before the board voted on whether or not Azmar’s mining permit request would be denied, MPLA in-house counsel Alan Lane reported the draft permit agreement was finalized on Nov. 18 and was sent immediately to Azmar’s counsel and officer, Jeffrey Finley.

Lane said 12 days passed and they never heard anything from Azmar until Dec. 3. He said the draft they proposed came back with stricken out clauses, including a portion requiring police clearance from the incorporators.

But Farrell denied that Azmar was slow in acting on MPLA’s draft proposal.

"The board faxed their 22-page draft to Mr. (Jeffrey) Finley (Azmar’s legal counsel) the day after the meeting.... We responded with our counter proposal within seven working days.... What kind of negotiation is that?" he said.

MPLA deputy commissioner Frank Eliptico said they received Azmar’s original request back in 2002.

At that time, it was just a request to determine the quality and quantity of pozzolan—a rare siliceous mineral used as cement additive. Then Azmar changed its request to a mining permit

MPLA’s private counsel Ray Quichocho said Azmar did not pay the required fee for the authorization permit it got to conduct the on-site study in Pagan.

Board member Benita Manglona, who moved for the denial of the mining permit request, said everyone in the body hoped Azmar would be able to submit all documents within the 15-day period but it never did.

"That is very disturbing. I have a lot of concerns," she said.

Vice chairman Manny Villagomez said Azmar’s failure to submit all documents gives him the impression they are hiding something.

"It shows that they don’t want to disclose their financial audits.... They refuse to give us the names of their prospective buyers. The letter of credit.... I still don’t agree in supporting Azmar’s request," he said.

Member Felix Sasamoto said he had doubts about Azmar since the beginning.

December 6, 2004

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