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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, June 12) – The Pagan Mining Task Force says it has completed a draft for a request for proposals regarding the mining of pozzolan and basalt on Pagan Island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

[PIR editor’s note: Pagan is a small island located north of the largest island in the Northern Mariana Islands chain, Saipan – capital of the Commonwealth. The tiny island experienced a volcanic eruption in May 1981, after which substantial deposits of natural pozzolan, a mineral from volcanic ash used to make hydraulic cement, were formed.]

Rep. Jacinta M. Kaipat, Covenant-Saipan and chairwoman of the task force, said now that there is a draft Request for Proposal, they will ask the government "to seek an expert consultant" to assist in the preparation of the final Request for Proposal.

Howard P. Willens, the governor’s special legal adviser, said Pagan’s mining industry should have been developed a decade ago.

"This is what the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands should have done 10 years ago. We hope that when this (Request for Proposal) comes out, we can (have a) mining industry to help the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands," said Willens.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said the mining industry on Pagan is crucial to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ economic survival.

He said the potential industry has been marred by politics and this should not be repeated.

"We need to know what we have up there. How much pozzolan we have? I never negotiate about something I don’t know," he said.

The volcanic island of Pagan, which measures about 18.4 square miles, is believed to be rich with pozzolan deposits, a cement ingredient noted for its quality additive value.

A major eruption on Pagan forced island residents to be evacuated to Saipan in 1981.

The U.S. Geological Survey said additional volcanic eruptions were recorded on Pagan from 1992 to 1996.

According to the draft Request for Proposal, the volcanic ash of pozzolan derived its name from the city of Puzzuolie in Italy that was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

The ash from that eruption came to be known as pozzolan which was later recognized for its strong building quality.

"The survival of many Roman roads, bridges and aqueducts to this day attests to the viability of natural pozzolan as a building material. Although natural pozzolan has several different uses, its principal contemporary use is as an additive to cement," the draft proposal stated.

The draft Request for Proposal seeks to give a mining company "an exclusive permit from the Department of Public Lands for a period of 20 years to conduct a mining and extraction operation on Pagan."

The Request for Proposal is proposed to be issued in early Aug. 2006 and bids will be entertained until Nov. 13, 2006.

The Request for Proposal will not impose a fixed royalty fee for mining pozzolan and instead proposes that it be computed "based on a percentage of metric ton revenues rather than a fixed amount per metric ton."

"Other methods of computing royalties will be considered. Royalty fees are in addition to the permit fee and the gross receipt taxes applicable to all business ventures in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands," the draft Request for Proposal stated.

June 12, 2006

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