CUC may RFP for water desal system

Posted on Apr 26 1999

The Commonwealth Utilities Corporation may issue yet another request for proposal (RFP) on a water desalination facility for central Saipan after the initial project was dropped due to high costs and little support from residents.

An in-house committee will review a new RFP on the long-overdue project for approval by the CUC board of directors, according to its executive director Timothy P. Villagomez.

He said the utility corporation will try to address the serious water situation in Garapan, Gualo Rai and other areas on Saipan which are the main beneficiaries of the proposed desalination plant.

“It’s not fair to continue to work on an RFP without any proper funding,” Villagomez told in an interview, referring to the offer of Earth Tech to undertake the project for more than $100 million over the next 20 years.

The initial proposal on the project, under a build-operate-transfer scheme, had been beset with funding problems since it would commit residents in the central district to pay as much as 10 times higher than their current water billings every month.

Last month, the government-owned utility firm scrapped a plan to contract the US water technology and engineering firm to produce potable water from the sea in a highly effective, but costly process viewed as last hope by Saipan residents perennially hit by dry wells.

A CUC task force on water had called for the cancellation in view of its failure to source funding for the project which has been in the planning board for the last four years.

According to Villagomez, the old proposal raised questions on the technology to be used, drawing concerns from the public whether it would be more of an advantage than the current water system of the island.

Saipan has relied heavily on more than 100 ground wells drilled by CUC on the island to provide for the needs of its customers, but these sources have dried up in recent months on the heels of El Nino, a weather phenomenon that has triggered long drought here.

“There are many concerns too on the technology (proposed by the project),” Villagomez explained. “This new RFP that is going to come out will address some of these issues and public education will come into play.”

He maintained the new proposal will attempt to seek other types of technology that will be “cheaper and better” than the initial plan.

Several residents have opposed a cost-sharing agreement offered by CUC to finance the desal plant and have instead prodded utility officials to seek ways to improve the existing water system.

CUC has twice abandoned the project largely due to the funding problem as most residents were not ready to share the burden of building a desalination facility despite assurances from the legislature they would subsidize its costs.

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