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Volcanic isle in Northern Marianas produces valuable ash

By Moneth G. Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Oct. 7, 2008) - The expansion of the airstrip on the pozzolan-rich island of Pagan will cost US$4.9 million, according to the master plan commissioned by the Commonwealth Ports Authority.

[PIR editor’s note: Pozzolan is a kind of volcanic ash that is highly valued as an additive in high quality cement. ]

EFC Engineers & Architects Corp., which was awarded the contract in 2007, prepared the master plan.

The Federal Aviation Agency provided the CNMI over US$300,000 to fund the master plan which includes data regarding the past and present conditions on the volcanic island and the ability of its existing facilities to meet current and projected aviation demands.

Pagan’s current airstrip is a grassy runway.

The island is located 199 miles north of Saipan.

In 1981, a major volcanic eruption occurred on Pagan that led to the evacuation of its entire population of almost 60 people.

The volcanic eruption resulted in lava flow that covered approximately half the length of the runway.

The master plan recommends the extension of the runway to allow for larger aircraft to operate because, at present, only a 600-pound weight limit is allowed for small aircraft that land on the runway.

But according to the master plan, extending the runway will involve removal of 240,000 cubic yards of lava and developments will cost approximately US$4.9 million.

"The existing grass lined runway needs to be flattened out by filling in the bomb craters. Also, it is highly recommended that the grass be trimmed. At present, wild cows and goats on the island graze on the runway keeping the grass trimmed," the master plan stated.

CPA officials, however, said there are no definite plans to develop new infrastructure for Pagan because of the CNMI’s extreme economic difficulty.

The full development of the Pagan airstrip will also need the transfer of the property supervision from the Department of Public Lands to CPA.

Pagan’s volcanic eruptions have resulted in the deposit of vast layers of a rare volcanic ash called pozzolan, which has a variety of commercial uses.

It is an input material in high quality cement, and effective in reinforcing and strengthening concrete.

Pozzolan also has agricultural applications such as enhancing soil quality and growth of crops.

The mining activities on Pagan have been suspended after the Fitial administration canceled the permit of JG Sablan, which then sued the government.

The matter is still pending in court.

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