TINIAN—“At last, everybody would be happy. My children and a lot of families on Tinian have been waiting for this homestead for years. They would have a place to call their own once it’s done,” 50-year-old Estevan Borja Jr. told Saipan Tribune as he gazed yesterday morning at the future site of a 189-lot village homestead in West San Jose.
Borja’s two daughters—a 24-year-old with the U.S. Air Force and a 26-year-old employee at Northern Marianas College—are among the 189 individuals who, months from now, could start getting their homestead permits and start building their own homes for their own families.
Borja, a father of five, attended yesterday’s groundbreaking for the West San Jose Village Homestead, five years since the drawing of lots and some 19 years since the project started.
Once the access road and excavation of a ponding basin are completed within 180 days, individuals can start securing their homestead permits.
“The permits are ready for the 189 lot owners,” said Ray Cing, Tinian director of the Department of Public Lands.
As of yesterday, however, it’s not clear where the funding for the homestead project’s other basic infrastructure such as power and water lines would come from.
Each homestead lot has a size of anywhere between 700 square meters and over 1,250 square meters.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, along with other officials, flew from Saipan to Tinian to take part in the 10am groundbreaking, the first in a number of years in the CNMI.
The governor said he first became aware of Tinian’s West San Jose Village Homestead project some five years ago when DPL, under a different administration, drew the lot numbers.
“After that, it came to a standstill. It was plagued with many challenges like environmental and funding issues, and a lack of sense of priority,” Inos told the crowd gathered on the NMC Tinian campus grounds.
The latest challenge to the project, he said, was funding, when the House of Representatives removed $2 million from DPL’s homestead program during the fiscal year 2014 budget process. When the bill reached the Senate, senators restored the funding to DPL.
“After the bill’s passage, I told the DPL secretary, ‘let’s move it.’ So we are here today,” Inos added.
The governor also called on agencies to work with each other to ensure the project gets completed.
He also hopes that with the future completion of the homestead village, Tinian residents won’t leave the island in search of a better place to live.
Hofschneider, who has been instrumental in moving the homestead village project forward since he was senator, said he is thankful to DPL, the Legislature, permitting agencies and other entities that helped ensure the project will finally get off the ground.
He said the administration is revisiting policies whether homestead funding can also be used to finance the installation of power and water infrastructure, among other things.
Otherwise, the Legislature would have to appropriate funds, he said.
Besides the governor and lieutenant governor, also in attendance were Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas, Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz, Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), Sen. Frank Borja (Ind-Tinian), Sen. Jack Borja (Ind-Tinian), DPL Secretary Pete A. Tenorio, Department of Public Works Secretary Martin Sablan, members of the Tinian Municipal Council, representatives from DPL-Tinian and DPL-Saipan office including Planning Division director Patricia Rasa, other government personnel, former government officials and community members.
‘Do your best’
The DPL secretary described the groundbreaking as an “important milestone,” considering that Tinian residents have waited long to finally have homesteads.
Tenorio urged homestead lot owners to “do your best” in ensuring they begin construction of “decent” houses for their families once they get their homestead permits.
“Live in them, don’t secretly rent them out,” Tenorio said, as he also made special mention of the efforts of DPL’s Rasa and DPL-Tinian’s Cing.
The lieutenant governor echoed Tenorio’s statement, saying that homestead lot owners should take their responsibility seriously as “there’s not a lot of lands left on Tinian” for homesteading.
Two-thirds of lands on Tinian are leased to the U.S. Department of Defense.
DPL Tinian’s Cing said the original design for the West San Jose Village Homestead included 263 homestead lots but because of historic and cultural concerns in some areas, the number of lots available for distribution went down to 189.
“We didn’t want to further delay the project so rather than come up with a new design, we just removed the other 70-plus, and they will be included in another homestead development project,” he added.
As far as Cing remembers, the last homestead to open on Tinian was about 20 years ago.
He said DPL-Tinian’s goal is to have a total of 493 homestead lots to be distributed, including those homestead villages that will be developed in Barangka, Marpo Valley, and Marpo Heights III.
“There is also a waiting list with 136 names or new applicants as of today,” Cing added.
Yesterday’s groundbreaking came weeks after the governor signed last year an over $656,000 contract for Pacific Cooperation Ltd. to start construction of an access road and ponding basin for the West San Jose Homestead Subdivision on Tinian. The 180-day work includes the grubbing, grading, and construction of approximately 11, 918 linear feet of road.