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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, January 29) – A controversial US$18 million Taiwan floating dry-dock received its environmental OK from the Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Authority despite strong community opposition.

There has been outspoken public opposition to the plan since it was first proposed in mid-2004 by Ching Fu Shipbuilding Co. of Taiwan. In June 2005, the Marshall Islands EPA rejected Ching Fu’s preferred site in the middle of the urban center of Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands.

But earlier this month, the EPA said Ching Fu had satisfied changes sought by the environmental agency, and gave the go-ahead for the dry-dock in a new location about two miles from the rejected site.

Late last year, Ching Fu announced that it was interested in a new location, still in the downtown section of this small atoll, and local residents objected that it was too close to residences, an elementary school and the capital’s largest hotel to be suitable.

Ching Fu officials say Majuro’s strategic location near tuna fishing grounds makes it ideal for a fishing boat repair operation. "This is not donor money, it’s new money and this is the only way our economy can grow," Resources and Development Minister John Silk said in praise of Ching Fu’s investment plan and the jobs it will create. "A democracy needs to find opportunities for its citizens; without opportunities we don’t have a democracy. Based on this we’re trying to bring in direct investments."

"The board felt all the issues were adequately met," EPA general manager John Bungitak said.

But Majuro Sen. Jurelang Zedkeia, who is also the leading traditional chief for Majuro, questioned what he said was a rush to approve the new location in a part of Majuro known as Delap. "How can the public make assessments and make educated comments if the public has nothing to review," he said. "Where are the reports?"

"First EPA said it’s bad for Uliga (Ching Fu’s first location choice) based on environmental reasons," Zedkeia said. "But if it’s bad for Uliga then why isn’t it bad for Delap? The real problems here is where is the suitable site?"

"We are using technology that would pass environmental regulations around the world," said Thor Lyster, of the Australian consulting company AEC, who conducted an environmental impact study for Ching Fu, in response to environmental critics.

Local residents complained that the EPA had called a short-notice meeting in mid-September last year at which few people attended to hear that Ching Fu was proposing a new site for the football field size dry-dock.

"The people of Delap aren’t aware of it," said Evelyn Konou, principal of the Delap Elementary School. The new dry-dock location is proposed to be located about 100 meters in the lagoon in front of her property. "How did EPA approve this without letting people comment?" she asked.

Government officials are strongly in favor of the dry-dock project because of the jobs and spin-off revenue to local businesses that it is expected to generate.

Silk said that government officials are now working with local landowners to get a lease for Ching Fu on shoreline property in the new location needed to link the floating dry-dock with the land.

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