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Governor declares disaster emergency

By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, August 15, 2008) – Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has declared a state of disaster emergency for the CNMI, citing that one of the power engines at the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.'s Power Plant 1 in Lower Base could explode at any time, maiming or killing power plant workers.

"This declaration is necessary to protect the health and safety of our children, or senior citizens, businesses and all other CNMI residents and visitors," Fitial said.

The emergency declaration caught some lawmakers by surprise.

Sen. Paul Manglona, who chairs the Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Commission, expressed concern with the state of emergency. According to him, the executive order was signed Aug. 1 but he only became aware of it yesterday.

Manglona questioned whether there are other contracts being signed using this declaration of emergency.

Fitial declared the state of disaster under Executive Order 2008-10, signed on Aug. 1. The Legislature received the executive order only yesterday, a lawmaker told Saipan Tribune.

In the four-page order, the governor cited CUC's inability to provide critical power generation service to the CNMI and the apparent "extreme, immediate threat such condition poses to the Commonwealth." Fitial said that Power Plant 1's engines are unable to provide power necessary to meet the basic needs of Saipan.

He said one or more of the engines is so damaged by wear and lack of adequate maintenance for many years that it may experience a catastrophic failure.

"The condition of the engines is so bad that the technical experts at the plant cannot predict precisely the time of failure. But they do predict such a catastrophic failure," Fitial said.

The chief executive said if one or more of Power Plant 1's engines fails, Saipan "will experience massive blackouts even more extensive that the present load-shedding which Saipan residents have been experiencing for the past months."

CUC's ability to generate electricity, Fitial said, could be so compromised that the island could experience a complete shutdown of its power generation system.

The effect of such failure, Fitial said, include the following:

CUC will be without power to pump and purify water.

CUC will be unable to pump or treat sewage.

Street lights and traffic lights would go offline.

The Commonwealth Health Center and medical clinic would be without CUC power, dependent on their limited diesel oil supplies and on-site generators.

Communications media would go offline, including MCV cable TV and radio stations, which do not have their own fuel supplies and generation.

Schools, homes, and work places will be subject to blackouts.

The very young, the ill and the elderly who are dependent on refrigeration for food and medicine will be without power.

Under the declaration, directive 1 suspends CUC's Procurement Regulations and the CNMI Procurement Regulations applicable to CUC, except that the utility agency "must fully document all procurement activity for Executive, Public Auditor and Legislative review."

The second directive suspends the Commonwealth Public Utility Commission Act of 2006, in so far as it would require the presentation of CUC procurement information, including contracts and other measures relating to the supply of power or the operation and maintenance of CUC's generation, for PUC review.

The third directive empowers CUC to execute the wholesale generation power contract it has negotiated with an independent power producer for a period of two years or less.

Manglona noted that the declaration was issued just shortly after the Legislature passed a bill that subsequently became Public Law 16-9.

Manglona said he and Sen. Maria Frica Pangelinan introduced that legislation to accommodate the emergency power generation contract that CUC is trying to initiate with Agrekko International.

"We amended the Public Utility Commission Act to remove some of the requirements such as certificate for convenience," he pointed out. "And then to find out that there is a declaration of disaster emergency, we don't actually need that law then."

The Rota senator said CUC and the administration should be more transparent in dealing with CUC procurements.

"To have the declaration of state of emergency at the time when even the Legislature was cooperating, we were pretty much bending backwards to solve this CUC emergency situation when people are having to face hours of power outages at night and during the day," Manglona said.

Saipan Tribune

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