The CNMI government spent at least $236,000 in federal funds for the purchase, installation, and wiring of over 40 power poles for the $2.9-million Marpi public cemetery, only for those power poles to be taken down starting today as part of a partial settlement agreement in the Friends of Marpi’s 2011 lawsuit.
Making matters worse is that some of the copper wires installed were stolen when the project was halted two years ago. The rest of the materials bought and shipped as part of the project have been sitting since then in a government warehouse.
Meanwhile, more than two years since its completion, the Marpi public cemetery has not been used because of a lack of power supply, lack of regulations, agencies’ finger-pointing on who should be responsible for its operations and maintenance, and funding.
Of 43 power poles needed, 41 were actually installed prior to the court’s order to halt the installations in April 2011.
“The total cost of installing the power poles and wiring to the Marpi Public Cemetery was $236,000. These costs were part of the total project which was funded by a grant received from the Office of Insular Affairs,” the governor’s special assistant for management and budget, Virginia Villagomez, said yesterday in response to Saipan Tribune’s questions.
Villagomez said the removal of the poles and wire will be an additional cost, which has yet to be determined.
‘Putting them to good use’
Saipan Tribune later learned that the power poles will be turned over to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. at no cost to CUC.
“We will put them to good use. They will be used in CUC’s systems maintenance program,” CUC Power Division manager Gary Camacho confirmed with Saipan Tribune.
CUC needs to replace power poles from time to time as part of its maintenance program.
Instead of the central government paying another contractor to take down the 41 power poles, CUC will be the one uprooting them starting today.
Camacho said taking down all the 41 power poles would take days.
While CUC is receiving the power poles, it wants the public to know it has nothing to do with the events leading to the removal of the power poles.
“At this point, I want to clarify that CUC is not taking sides on the issue and we have no opinion about the lawsuit or the settlement. CUC does not have anything to do with the reasons or events leading to the removal of the power poles. CUC, as a utility company, is just the recipient of the materials deemed not to be used in the area,” Camacho said.
The CNMI central government, through the Capital Improvement Project Office, hired a contractor, Maeda Pacific, for the Marpi power poles’ installation and wiring.
“Our contract was $236,000 and it includes everything—we bought and shipped the power poles, installation, and wiring. We were not able to install everything because of a court order but we were paid the full amount of the contract,” Maeda project engineer Randy Jacob said yesterday in a phone interview.
Of the 43 power poles needed for the Marpi project, 40 of them are 45-foot tall line poles. Three others are called stud poles, at 35 ft. long each.
Each power pole costs some $1,500, it was learned.
Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), for his part, said the $236,000 is “just a portion of the total cost” to the government for the power poles, “only for them to be taken down.”
“This is the partial cost to the government for not following its own rules and laws. We are still not talking about the hours spent for this to be defended in court,” Deleon Guerrero said, referring to Friends of Marpi’s allegations against the government.
He hopes that the government has learned its lessons when it comes to projects like the Marpi power poles, to conduct public hearings, and secure necessary permits, among other things, so that it can avoid lawsuits from the community.
Friends of Marpi claimed that the power poles were installed without a public hearing, without major siting permit, and without considering preserving the historic, scenic, and cultural value of the site.
The government, through the Office of the Attorney General, said in 2011 that the Coastal Resources Management, among others, held a public hearing about the cemetery project in 2004 so there was no legal basis to halt the project. It was not clear whether the 2004 public hearing ever discussed the power poles.
In 2011, the government said that stopping the installation of the power poles will cost the CNMI a lot of money as there is already a contract.
Deleon Guerrero, however, expressed relief that at least the power poles will not at all be wasted as they will be turned over to CUC “so that they can use them to replace old ones they are using.”
“I just hope that CUC would at least offset some power rates in exchange for saving money buying over 40 power poles,” said Deleon Guerrero, chairman of the House Committee on Public Utilities, Transportation and Communication.
Deleon Guerrero raised the question of how much the CNMI government spent to buy, install, and wire the Marpi power poles, along with associated costs, during the House PUTC’s meeting with Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Arnold I. Palacios, CIP Office’s Carl Castro, and assistant attorney general Charles Brasington on Tuesday.
Last week, Friends of Marpi and the government, through the Office of the Attorney General, reached a partial settlement in relation to the latter’s lawsuit over the installation of the power poles.
Friends of Marpi counsel David G. Banes said their lawsuit alleged that the CNMI government breached its legal duty in three ways: failing to legally install the power poles, failing to properly fund and staff the Historical Preservation Office, and failing to have a legally required land use plan.
“Removing the poles solves the first issue but not the other two. So those two other issues will remain,” Banes earlier said.