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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Azmar urges MPLA to close ranks, grant permit
Company says CNMI losing much-needed revenues due to delay

Azmar International has urged the Marianas Public Lands Authority not to allow their political squabbling to jeopardize the company’s proposal to extract pozzolan from Pagan.

Don Farrell, public information director for Azmar International Trading Company Inc. CNMI, said the Commonwealth is losing much-needed revenues each day that MPLA delays the issuance of Azmar’s mining permit.

“It is damaging to the CNMI economy and contrary to the fiduciary responsibility of the MPLA board to allow internal political squabbling to jeopardize Azmar’s permit application procedure and our ability to do business in the CNMI without political interference,” Farrell said.

“It is the sincere desire of the Azmar management and the real people of Pagan that MPLA meet in good faith next week, regardless of problems with its internal organization, and issue Azmar a certificate to extract pozzolan from Pagan as agreed to in Los Angeles,” he added.

Farrell was referring to a meeting between Azmar and MPLA officials during the business conference sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior last month.

During the meeting, MPLA chair Ana Demapan-Castro and then acting MPLA commissioner Frank Eliptico discussed Azmar’s permit application with company president Kenneth Moore in front of Gov. Juan N. Babauta and several CNMI senators.

“After listening to comments from the governor and members of the CNMI Senate, Ms. Castro agreed that MPLA would immediately issue Azmar a permit to extract pozzolan from Pagan,” Farrell said.

As part of the agreement, MPLA would issue a separate agreement stating requirements that Azmar must satisfy within 90 days after the permit is issued, Azmar added.

In an interview yesterday, Sen. Paul Manglona said he got the same impression from the meeting.

He said that from what he understood, MPLA would issue a permit and a list of conditions that Azmar must meet within 90 days. But despite having a permit, Azmar could not commence mining activities on Pagan until these requirements are completed, he added.

Nevertheless, Manglona said the Senate’s main concern was for MPLA to provide Azmar—or any other investor, for that matter—a timely response to its proposal, even if the decision is favorable or not.

“We wanted to make sure that we do not unnecessarily delay action on investor proposals,” he said.

Likewise, the Associated Press has reported that Gov.Babauta “struck a multimillion-dollar deal with an Arizona investor who wants to buy the islands’ volcanic ash for use in mixing cement and other construction purposes.”

But in an earlier interview, Demapan-Castro said Azmar’s application was not a done deal. She maintained that the 90-day conditional permit purported to be given to Azmar was a proposal that MPLA is still studying.

The current in-fighting among MPLA board members is expected to further delay Azmar’s permit application procedure. Already, differences among the officials have resulted in repeated postponement of meetings and release of conflicting messages.

“It is unfortunate that Ms. Castro has not been able to muster a quorum for a board meeting. Apparently, there are differences of opinion among the board members regarding their internal staffing,” Farrell said.

“We hope that all the members of the MPLA board will attend the [next] board meeting. We hope that Azmar will be put on the agenda and the certificate will be signed and presented to an Azmar representative,” he added. “It will be tragic for the economy of the CNMI if we do not receive a permit in time to meet our buyer’s demands. Had we been given the permit this last January, Azmar could have created approximately $2 million in new revenues for MPLA and the general fund.”

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