A joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives unanimously approved the public land lease agreement between Macau-based Alter City Group and the Department of Public Lands last Friday at the lower chamber.
All 20 representatives from the House and eight senators from the Senate voted “yes” for the public land lease agreement. When the votes were confirmed, the audience in the chamber, which included Alter City officials and Public Lands Secretary Pete A. Tenorio, applauded.
The 152-hectare Tinian land lease agreement is for a $360-million casino resort that Alter City expects to complete within 12 years at the picturesque Puntan Diablo. The development is in three phases and includes the construction of 1,000 hotel rooms, water parks, an 18-hole golf course, villas, casino facilities, and related tourism amenities.
Alter City Group executive vice president Ken Lin said he’s happy that the lease has been approved but he is also anxious for the real work to commence.
“I’ve known about this island for four or five years ago. I’ve walked this land from one end to the other many times. I’ve jumped into the water I don’t know how many times and always had this vision once it happens. When I introduced this project to ACG in Macau and to Hong Kong I always told them about how beautiful this island is going to be. Now all the reality is starting to sink in. Thanks for all the people who supported [this project]. The only way this project is going to be successful is with the support of the people from Tinian. Together we can make this become something. This is just the first step of our vision and the real work starts now.”
Its chief executive officer, Edvon Sze, also took time to thank the House and the Senate for their unanimous vote on the land lease deal.
“I thank members of the House and the Senate. We appreciate that we’re moving this project forward now. Now we can move on with our plans—start with office acquisition, getting equipment, hire professional engineers, and employ locals. Now it’s up to us to make this project work,” he said.
Sze said that Alter City counsel, Robert Torres, is now looking at applying for a casino license for the company.
“Will soon be in contact with the Tinian Casino Gaming Commission,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider said the land lease approval is a momentous day not only for the people of Tinian but also for the whole CNMI.
“I want to congratulate the Alter City Group for such an accomplishment on their quest to seek approval from the Legislature. I also want to thank the Legislature for their unanimous vote. Now they can move forward to their next phase as far as their project is concerned. I urge the company to continue on and work with the agencies to make sure conditions set forth on the lease are complied with,” Hofschneider added.
DPL Secretary Tenorio said Alter City’s plans for Tinian would give the island a much-needed economic boost. He added that he would be in the vanguard to make sure the company follows through on its commitments.
“It’s a very, very historic passage in that all the members of Legislature present—20 representatives and eight senators—all agreed that it’s a good project. I look forward to not disappointing our people about it. …I want to play a key role to make sure that they live up to their commitment and to the lease agreement, and to the expectations that people have,” he said.
In the discussion before the passage of the land lease, Rep. Ramon Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan) questioned the committee report for not addressing the relocation of the open dumpsite in Puntan Diablo.
“Not sure if…specific issues were addressed to make sure that the closure of the dumpsite will be attainable. …What is the cost and who will bear the cost of the closing of this landfill?” the lawmaker asked.
Rep. Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan) said he doesn’t like a repeat of the Puerto Rico dumpsite fiasco, of which plans of making it into a park hasn’t been realized until now.
“It’s a longstanding issue but we also have to be mindful that we’re giving away land that will be developed. Cost to shut down Puerto Rico dump was $10 million. I support economic development in the CNMI, but we should also look at the future. Puerto Rico dump has been closed for 10 years now but we haven’t addressed it yet.”
Alter City earlier said in a public hearing that their development wouldn’t move forward after the first phase if the landfill is not relocated.
However, Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan), said with or without Alter City, the Tinian Municipality and the CNMI are obligated to move the dumpsite, which is illegal and violates local and federal regulations. “Tinian is fortunate that this investor is assisting in the funding of the relocation of this dumpsite. They don’t need to do this [because] the dumpsite has to move eventually.”
This was echoed by Rep. Richard Seman (R-Saipan): “With or without Alter City, the dump is an issue that CNMI government has to face. Alter City recognized this problem and they’re offering to help rectify this problem.”
After a couple of hours of going back and forth on the issue, the land lease agreement was put to a vote and, surprisingly, all representatives—even those who questioned the uncertainly and questions about the dumpsite relocation—and senators voted “yes” to the deal.