Marpi remedial study aims to be completed in July

Marpi Point Field—a “formerly used defense site” and part of the Marpi area that was once estimated to have about 6.6 million lbs of ordnance in 1964—will continue to be studied this February for remedial actions for any ordnance and contamination leftover from World War II.

Right now, this “remedial investigation/feasibility study” has a hopeful completion date of July this year. Field activities on the site are slated for mid- to late February. But this is also dependent on details from a biological survey for endangered birds in the area, and an issue over some private lands that take up a few acres on the site.

The study will serve as the basis for the recommendation of remedial action for explosives and contamination on the 410-acre site.

Parsons project manager Don M. Silkebakken, contracted by the U.S. Army Corps for the study, spoke at a public hearing Wednesday night. He said that in February they would “go back and identify anomalies for intrusive investigation,” “dig them out of the course of the entire site” and “make an assessment of the kind of removal action to be done.”

To do this, five foot wide transect lines will be established parallel across the site, with lines set 250 feet apart, according to Silkebakken. These transects would be out of road view, and geophysical mapping and intrusive investigation for anomalies will follow.

“In essence, we are going to brush cut those transect lines to create pathways across the site for us to go in to digital mapping,” Silkebakken said.

This data will be used to assess areas for “low density and high density” anomaly counts, according to him.

The February activities will also take into account findings of archaeological and biological surveys done in October and November last year.

The biological survey found some “old growth vegetation” and detected the presence of the nightingale reed warbler, an endangered bird.

The old airfield was originally clear-cut to the ground by Japanese forces to put in their airfield. Because of this, “everything that has grown since then is not old growth,” and “is invasive vegetation that grew since the war ended,” according to Silkebakken yesterday.

He added that, “there is a sliver along the coast—maybe 5 to 6 acres of area— that was left there that wasn’t cut down in the 1940s.”

This area was identified in the biological survey and will not be brush cut, he said.

As for the birds, Silkebakken said the company that did the survey “heard reed warblers singing.”

“None were seen,” he added. “But they heard them.”

The second biological survey will start in the next three or four weeks to “find how many are actually there,” according to him. Additionally, megapodes—another endangered bird—will be checked too. This survey will take about two months, he said.

Further inspection for contamination of soil will probably be done in the next few months as well. This, according to Silkebakken, will “recheck the data” that the Army Corps got in their study of the same area in 2009.

The data is available in the Joeten Kiyu Public Library. These samples show “elevated levels of metal in the soil,” according Silkebakken. “We believe this to be attributable to the munitions’ presence,” he said.

About 50 historical artifacts were also found during a historical survey of the site. This was documented but will not be released to the public, out of the concerns for protection of these artifacts.

Silkebakken said he could not elaborate much on the topic but said the survey “found some old pottery shards” predating far past World War II in the “old growth” vegetation area on site.

As for WWII artifacts, they found “a spoon from a Japanese mesh kit” and “part of a broken teapot” with Japanese symbols on it, Silkebakken said.

Asked what they would do with ordnance found during their investigation, he said they have met with the Department of Public Safety on this.

“We just came from a meeting with the Department of Public Safety. We are either going to detonate it on the site or [DPS] is going to come and take it off the site,” he said.

The remedial study being done will further define “how bad the situation is,” and if all of the 410 acres are impacted, he said. If not, he added, they would identify what areas are “more or highly contaminated versus others.”

He said that in a probable timeframe of about a couple of years, there will be removal action that “cleans up everything.”

Another issue they are aware of are “very small,” multiple parcels of land along the southern side of the site near the old Japanese Command Post, according to Silkebakken. The rest of site belongs to the Department of Public Lands, he said.

Silkebakken said most of these properties have multiple owners. “There heirs pass it down from one to the next, and nobody lives on the property, they are just pieces of property with nothing on them,” he said.

“So we have to get authorization from all people listed as an owner on any individual property, and they don’t all necessarily live on Saipan, and it is a difficult path, and it is an ongoing path,” he said.

If they could not get authorization in a reasonable time, he said those pieces of property “would not be included in this current investigation” and a letter would be sent to all owners telling them essentially that if they don’t allow the Army Corps to inspect the area “they are basically agreeing that they accept that risk.”

Public involvement

Only a few showed up at Wednesday night’s public hearing, made up mostly of individuals involved with the project, media, and a local businessman.

“We are looking for as much feedback as we can get,” Silkebakken said at the hearing, as Marpi is a known tourist site.

He told the Saipan Tribune that any feedback or information that local community can give would be appreciated.

He said the public could contact U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Honolulu District’s Helene Takemoto with their input, or for more information.

Takemoto can be reached at 808-835-4088 or at FUDS-POH@usace.army.mil.

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Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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