This month marks the 12th year since the Babauta-Benavente administration chained shut the gates of Puerto Rico dump and opened the Marpi landfill, marking what they described as “a new era of respect for our natural environment.”
A transfer station in Lower Base also opened after that, but the momentum has since slowed down to fully close the open dump in compliance with federal regulations. Tackling the dump’s closure and turning it into a public park overlooking the waters barely made it to campaign promises and political platforms.
This year also marks the 21st year since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a 1994 compliance order to the CNMI government with regard to the dump’s closure.
Although Puerto Rico dump stopped accepting trash in 2003, the mountain of trash continues to threaten the surrounding ocean ecosystem because it has not been properly capped and pipes have not been installed for monitoring purposes, among other things, as required by federal rules.
Almost year after year, capital improvement project funding meant for Marpi landfill’s final closure had been “redirected” to pay for other CNMI projects with the promise of restoring those funds for the dump closure the following year.
For years, Puerto Rico dump was considered one of the most unsightly areas on Saipan. It’s a health and safety hazard to anyone in the vicinity, and frequent fires pollute the nearby tourist beaches.
Task forces were formed, closure and re-use plans were mulled, but to no avail. Adding to the delays were bidders’ procurement protests, appeals and bid cancellations for at least 12 years since no additional trash was supposed to be accepted at the dump.
The road to final dump closure is long and winding so it’s a breath of fresh air to learn that the Inos-Torres administration is pledging to make this specific project among its priorities at a time when Saipan is preparing for the development of a $7.1-billion integrated casino resort, among other things.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos, in his Jan. 12 inaugural address, said his administration is poised to sign a $15 million to $23 million construction contract for the closure of Puerto Rico dump, a project that he said “has been through four administrations.” The administration should not lose that focus, and should follow through on that specific task.
As the administration’s own Committee on Transition puts it, development must incorporate “economic progress, social progress, and environmental protection.” It recommends that the CNMI leadership commit to these principles and vigorously adopt them as the development framework for the Commonwealth.
About seven years ago, the project was estimated to cost $7 million to $10 million. The longer the CNMI waits, the costlier the project becomes.
But as with any multi-million government projects, it won’t be surprising if the procurement process for Puerto Rico dump’s final closure gets caught up—once again—in a series of procurement protests, appeals, and lawsuits. And before you know it, another administration takes over. And funding for the final dump closure gets used for other purposes again.