A lack of as little as $60,000 in “seed” funding, local agencies’ finger-pointing on responsibilities, and a lack of power supply in the area have stalled the use of the $2.9-million Marpi public cemetery, more than two years since it was built and as overcrowding in other cemeteries persist.
But some lawmakers and the Department of Lands and Natural Resources said yesterday the waiting should be over soon.
“We have another All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day coming up and we still have not addressed the overcrowding at the cemeteries by opening the new Marpi cemetery, which has been completed since two years ago. It looks like we’re now moving forward,” House Public Utilities, Transportation and Communications chair Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) said in a meeting with agency representatives yesterday.
Deleon Guerrero said the Chalan Kanoa cemetery, for example, is already filled to capacity, yet a new public cemetery that’s been built since two years ago has been allowed to sit idle.
DLNR Secretary Arnold I. Palacios said a $60,000 “seed” funding from the Legislature will at least allow the department to finally award a contract to one of three bidders for the “opening and closing” of burial crypts at the Marpi cemetery.
He said the proposed two-year contract allows the contractor to bill the government a set amount per burial, but there would still be seed money needed for the contract signing.
Palacios, at the same time, told some House members yesterday afternoon that the cost of each burial at the new Marpi public cemetery is estimated at $400.
While DLNR has yet to set the fees to be charged to the families of those that will be buried at the new public cemetery, it is expected that the amount would be “at least” $200.
This is a one-time payment, and the rest will become a government subsidy unless new fee schedules are set to defray the cost maintaining the cemetery.
The federally-funded construction of the Marpi public cemetery was completed in early 2011.
However, it has not been used since then due to a host of issues that include local agencies’ finger pointing as to who will be responsible for issuing the regulations and who will be responsible for its operations and maintenance, among other things.
Palacios said the Bureau of Environmental Health under the now Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.—formerly the Department of Public Health—is supposed to regulate the public cemetery, and DLNR could help supervise the burials.
He said the departments of Public Works and Public Safety are also supposed to play roles as well.
“Somebody had to take care of it so DLNR took ownership of it, just so we can move forward with this project. We know it’s supposed to be Public Health but they were not able to do so,” Palacios told House PUTC Committee members.
DLNR has published proposed regulations on the public cemetery’s operations.
The House PUTC Committee also invited assistant attorney general Charles Brasington to update them on a partial settlement agreement between the government and Friends of Marpi in connection with the latter’s lawsuit over the installation of power poles in Marpi.
Under the settlement deal, the government will take down the power poles in Marpi from the Buddhist temple to the Veterans Cemetery along Chalan Pale Arnold Road.
Reps. Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan) and Roman Benavente (Ind-Saipan) hoped that the lawsuit and the settlement agreement won’t hinder future developments in the Marpi area—such as homesteads—that need power supply.
House members also asked Brasington, Palacios, and Capital Improvement Project Office’s Carl Castro as to the source of power needed for the operations and maintenance of the Marpi public cemetery.
Palacios and Castro said the government will be temporarily sharing the power generator that is being used by the adjacent CNMI Veterans Cemetery.
Brasington told lawmakers that nothing in the Friends of Marpi lawsuit prevents the government from having power generators onsite.
Palacios reiterated that with seed funding, the Marpi cemetery can be put to use.
“All that needs to get done is [seed] funding to pay the contractor. DLNR has already signed off on the notice of intent to award,” he told lawmakers that also included Reps. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) and Tony Benavente (Ind-Saipan).
The new, non-denominational public cemetery has 2,500 double crypts or double-stack occupancy crypts for a total of 5,000 burials.
It has a potential to provide over 50,000 crypts for 33 years.
Under a 13-year-old law, upon completion of the Marpi Public Cemetery construction, there should no longer be burials at the Wireless Hill Public Cemetery on Capital Hill.
The law says “within 60 days of such closure,” the DPH secretary—now the CHC chief executive officer—shall submit an exhumation plan for the transfer of bodies to the Marpi Public Cemetery and anticipated related costs.”
No such exhumation plan for the bodies’ transfer has been submitted and the Marpi Public Cemetery has yet to open.
“We should all work together to open this new public cemetery,” Deleon Guerrero added.