Despite COVID-19 pandemic, the Commonwealth Ports Authority’s plans for the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport have not changed.
CPA board chair Kimberlyn King-Hinds said yesterday that CPA continues to forge ahead in pursuing their goal to either upgrade and expand the existing airport facilities or build a new terminal that they believe is critical to growing a sustainable economy for the CNMI.
“CPA is excited about this project and we are excited about the steps that we are taking on the path to helping our Commonwealth rise,” said King-Hinds, when asked about CPA’s plans to revive the tourism industry after the COVID-19 crisis.
She disclosed that they recently submitted a grant application—in collaboration with the Office of the Governor and the assistance of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ senior policy adviser Glenna Palacios-Reyes—to assist CPA in undertaking a Strategic Long Range Intermodal Study, which will help CPA lay the foundation for a robust public discussion and vetting, based on hard data, projected economic growth, financial capability, and current conditions of their existing facilities.
“We are cautiously optimistic that, with the awarding of this grant, the required due diligence for such a huge undertaking will begin,” she said.
King-Hinds said they want a process that’s transparent, with buy-in from their stakeholders, industry partners and the community and having information that is publicly available, and it is believed that this study will be key to that.
“Whichever course we end up pursuing, we are talking about a capital investment in the hundreds of millions potentially,” she said.
King-Hinds said she knows it’s difficult right now, given the state of the CNMI’s economy, to imagine such an endeavor. “However, we are going to end up being stuck in the same cyclical economic rut if we don’t shift our paradigm in terms of what we need to invest in, to not only grow our tourism industry but to attract new, clean investment opportunities to diversify our economic portfolio,” she said.
The CNMI’s ports are the first and last impression of the Commonwealth, but right now, it’s not the best, she said. Even if they fix the leaky roofs at the airport, which they are currently working on, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s outdated and is limited in capacity.
Last November, the CPA board started public discussions on CPA’s plan to build a new $300-million terminal to replace the existing Saipan international airport that King-Hinds described as “outdated and deteriorating.”