With the close of fiscal year 2017 in October, the Historic Preservation Office saw an increase in the number of earthmoving permit applications, reviewing and processing a total of 596 HPO clearances.
That is an increase of 69 compared to the 527 posted in fiscal year 2016 for all One-Start Earthmoving Permit Applications transmitted to HPO from the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality for the three islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota.
“Of these applicants, the island of Saipan processed a total of 535, with 36 for Tinian, and 25 for Rota. In addition, 28 permit applications required professional archaeologists due to the project location’s sensitivity and archaeological environment,” according to historic preservation officer Mertie Kani.
As for federally funded projects, Kani noted that HPO reviewed and commented on a total of 37 federally funded Section 106 projects in fiscal year 2017.
“As part of a federal regulation under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the HPO consults with federal agencies, local agencies administering federal funds, and consultants working on federally funded or permitted projects that have the potential to affect significant cultural resources,” Kani added.
Community and Cultural Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter said the increasing number of projects emphasizes the need to strengthen compliance, noting that federally mandated positions are now filled.
“The increase in One-Start Permit applications is directly due to economic growth and investment. That we now have two critical and federally mandatory positions filled, that of the staff archaeologist and the historian, goes a long way towards seeing that our HPO meets the demands of the review of earthmoving permits and monitoring and carries out its other mandated duties,” Hunter said.
Hunter said that hiring HPO staff historian Lucas Simonds and HPO staff archaeologist James R. Pruitt come at a very critical time in economic development.
“The Historic Preservation Office’s staff historian position is finally filled in to complete the HPO staffing requirement as part of the Historic Preservation Fund Grant. HPO now has a fulltime staff historian who is responsible for all professional consultation in matters pertaining to history and historical research. In addition, he works hand-in-hand with the staff archaeologist in promoting, protecting and preserving the rich cultural heritage of the history of the Northern Mariana Islands,” Hunter said.
Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres reiterated that the vacant positions were difficult to fill, but HPO can now move forward with improving and strengthening historic preservation needs.
“It remains critical that developments stay compliant and that proposed projects are in the best interest of the Commonwealth with respect to our island’s natural resources. I am pleased that these key positions have been filled after a very difficult time with limited resources in meeting federal guidelines. I commend the diligence performed by all our permitting agencies. I am hopeful that the preservation of our island’s heritage are in good hands and that there is assurance of all earthmoving activities being performed to minimize environmental impacts, which will ensure preservation for our future generations,” Torres said. (PR)