The COVID-19 pandemic has had a ruinous impact on the CNMI’s tourism economy but the Commonwealth Ports Authority has so far been staying afloat, thanks to a combination of belt-tightening and the infusion of federal dollars.
Last April, CPA received $22,759,818 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, more popularly referred to as the CARES Act, that will be spread out across four years and is available at a 100% federal share, which means CPA does not need to provide a matching amount to tap the funds.
These funds are on top of grants awards to CPA from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration, plus money awarded to CPA by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair damage from Typhoon Mangkhut and Super Typhoon Yutu.
CPA relies mainly on the revenue it generates from the CNMI’s tourism industry and the airlines that service the CNMI. However, all international flights to the CNMI remain suspended and only United Airlines and interisland carrier Star Marianas Air fly into and out of the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport right now.
According to CPA’s ending report for fiscal year 2020—which CPA issued on Oct. 9, 2020—it is thanks largely to the CARES Act that CPA was able to use $4.1 million to pay off three years’ worth of debt from fiscal year 2020 through 2022 (debt servicing). The remaining $18.6 million was used to fund operational expenses from fiscal years 2020 to 2021. Additionally, with the slow pace of operations going into fiscal years 2021 and 2022, CPA expects the CARES Act funds it got to last it until the end of fiscal year 2021.
On top of this federal funding, the CPA, through its board of directors, implemented several austerity measures in order for CPA to lessen operations, and it said it has been able to “actively manage” ongoing projects that include fixing the damage that were caused by Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018.
These projects include demolishing the damaged commuter terminal and building a new and larger terminal, renovations and repairs to the tower, repairs to the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting training facility; repairs to the waterproofing the flat roof of the international terminal; replacement of metal flushing on the high roofs; replacement of all passenger loading bridges; replacement of damaged fencing; replacement of the rotating beacon; procurement of a disabled passenger lift for the safe boarding and de-boarding of passengers who require special assistance; and repairs for the operation and monitoring of the incinerator.
Among the austerity measures implemented include reducing employee hours, freezing all personnel actions and travel outside the CNMI, and implementing energy conservation measures. Additionally, last Aug. 30, CPA was able to give their tenants at both seaports and airports relief by providing them discounts and waivers on rental and aviation fees through December 2020.
As of September 2020, CPA had 181 employees at its three airports: 131 on Saipan, 23 on Rota, and 27 on Tinian. There are a total of 24 employees at the seaports: 19 on Saipan, two on Rota, and three on Tinian.
CPA said there were only a minimal amount of changes in personnel in fiscal year 2020.
At the Saipan seaport, CPA continues to work on completing a number of projects, including the paving of the main access road from Saipan Shipping Company to the Inos Peace Park, updating the Saipan Harbor Master Plan, repairing the underwater cavities at Delta Dock, extending the Delta Dock, repairing the cavity at Berth 103, repairing the parking lot of the CPA Seaport Office Building, repaving the access road leading to the south seaplane ramp, and building a bus and vehicle parking area.
Tinian International Airport and Seaport
Current and ongoing projects at the Tinian International Airport include the replacement of the entire security fence; the renovation of the existing ARFF station, which includes an extension to the building, construction of an ancillary building for storage and SCBA equipment, an extension of the front of Bays 2 and 3, the construction of office space for the Airport Advisory Station, the expansion of the existing parking lot to accommodate additional vehicles, repairs to the flagpole, air-conditioning units, roof, conveyor system, windows, and doors; and the replacement of the floodlight and sign.
Tinian Seaport projects include paving the marina road and parking area; constructing boat trailer parking spaces, two pavilions, and a restroom; installing a boat washdown area; improving and repairing the wharf; and completing repairs to the breakwater.
Rota harbor and airport
Projects at the Benjamin Taisacan Manglona International Airport include replacing the entire perimeter fence that was damaged by Typhoon Mangkhut, improving the drainage system at the Rota terminal building, replacing the entire metal roof canopy at the front of the terminal with concrete and additional posts for structural support, rehabilitating or replacing the entire aircraft parking apron, and beautifying the airport through plants.
At the Rota West Harbor, activities include the relocation of the Seaport building, the replacement of two-finger piers for small boat commercial activities, and the expansion of Berth 2.