‘I would rather take my chances with an active volcano’

Northern Islands Mayor Jerome Aldan remains adamant in his push for a homestead program on Pagan so that people can start resettling the island or planning ahead for its future.

Aldan said he is still going forward with his proposal to resettle the island, despite the plan of the U.S. military to use Pagan as a live-fire training area and in the face of numerous delays in his meeting with Department of Public Lands Secretary Pete Tenorio, whose agency is responsible for doling out homestead lots.

Saipan Tribune tried countless times to schedule a meeting with Tenorio. However, the secretary failed to respond as of press time, giving the impression that the island’s homestead program is still in limbo.

A former Pagan resident, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, questioned the fact that Saipan, Tinian, and Rota already have homestead programs, yet the Northern Islands’ still remains “tabled.”

“They don’t care, it’s obvious. Why is it hard just to give the homesteads? Look at Tinian, they’ve got homesteads. One problem they’re facing is infrastructure but they still got the homesteads. Pagan faces that issue, but why isn’t there any homestead permits?” the resident asked.

Another former Pagan resident, Cinta Kaipat, said she supports the homestead program in the Northern Islands. However, she said safety is her primary concern, with an active volcano still spewing smoke, reminding her that it still poses a danger.

“Since 1998, the United Northern Islanders Association and, later, PaganWatch, advocated that the government install functioning seismic monitors, maintained properly, and to regularly monitor the volcanic activities up there,” Kaipat said.

“I would like to see a well-organized plan to issue homestead or agriculture permits to the people who genuinely wish to reside in the Northern Islands, and not just apply to ‘land grab’ through land exchange. People who want to live up there should apply, with first priority being given to former residents, especially those who were forcibly evacuated either by an act of God or by man, and priority should also go to those who still do not own any homesteads here on Saipan,” she added.

Kaipat said those who apply for permits should actually live there and not use it for land exchange.

“They must work and live off the land. Should they decide to pack up and move back to Saipan or elsewhere in the CNMI, then the land should revert back to the government so that it may be issued to the next person on the list who wants to go up to Pagan or any of the islands to live there,” she said.

“All this is possible provided the seismic monitors are installed; an emergency evacuation plan is developed, ready to be implemented as necessary; and regular, reliable transportation is established,” she added.

If given a choice between an active volcano and living on Pagan with the military dropping bombs on the island, Kaipat said she would rather take her chances with the volcano.

Similar to Tinian case

Last year, a total of 189 lots were issued for the West San Jose Village Homestead on Tinian, despite the lack of funds for power and water lines.

At that time Gov. Eloy S. Inos said he became aware of the of Tinian’s West San Jose Village Homestead project some five years ago when DPL, under a different administration, drew the lot numbers.

Inos said the project later came to a standstill and became plagued with many challenges like environmental and funding issues and lack of priority.

Past documents

The homestead project has been snagged for over 10 years now due to safety concerns, uncertainty over the military’s plans, and the non-involvement of many Northern Islands residents over the completion or development of DPL’s Land Use Plan.

Saipan Tribune obtained documents of past meetings regarding the homestead program for Pagan. In October 2013, the Saipan and Northern Island’s Legislative Delegation’s Committee on Natural Resources, DPL, and Northern Islands Mayor’s Office resumed discussion on the program.

Based on the minutes of the meeting, Tenorio had said that the military impact is causing delays in moving forward with the Northern Islands homestead program. He said he also needs guidance from the Legislature and prefers to wait on the military before implementing the program.

At that time, Aldan reiterated that they didn’t need to wait for the military, told of more than five existing laws satisfying DPL’s guidance for the homestead implementation, and that Pagan is safe with the fiber optic cable installed around the island to monitor seismic activities.

Former vice speaker Frank Dela Cruz said that DPL should take the necessary steps in issuing deeds and permits.

Existing lots

In a recent meeting with the SNILD, Aldan brought up the topic of resettlement once again for the homestead programs.

“DPL needs to implement quickly. If DPL does not act I would like to ask the chairman and SNILD to assist in funding the retracements of existing village lots in Bandera, Pagan. Approximately 36 village lots were surveyed since 1979 by Juan C. Tenorio and Associates,” Aldan told delegation members.

Jayson Camacho | Reporter
Jayson Camacho covers community events, tourism, and general news coverages. Contact him at jayson_camacho@saipantribune.com.

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