The first things you do to begin the organized development of a new place is to make sure you can get there, carry and unload enough materials once there to construct needed initial infrastructure and get yourself and your work crews off and headed safely back home until the next trip. On an island, that means you need to develop a seaport and, in our modern age, an airport as well.

The first meeting of the Pagan Ad Hoc Committee of the Commonwealth Ports Authority last month began that important process on beautiful Pagan Island in earnest. Former senator Pete Reyes, the chairman of the new committee, is just the man to head up such a project. If you are new here, the “Slow” nickname when applied to the senator means methodical and with detailed decision-making patience, not dense, as you will see if you follow his exploits.

Designing and building a seaport and an airport on exotic black sands Pagan some 200 miles away from Saipan will come packaged with a host of logistical problems that won’t be easy to solve, but are definitely doable. It will be costly but initial development that leads to future growth pays that initial investment back many fold over time.

Should we do it? Absolutely. Here’s why:

*Pagan in pre-contact times housed a significant population that was mostly decimated during the mid-Spanish colonial occupation of the Marianas. This should be memorialized and used as a base. Importantly, it became a center of a traditional repopulation residence movement in the Japanese era, largely because of access to a Japanese-built airport and resupplying made economically feasible with a small port for loading and unloading boats from Saipan and other already developed or developing islands in the Marianas chain.

*Tourism is not only possible on Pagan but that exotic island could become a major economic center and a branding theme of CNMI tourism in just a few decades if properly managed and if growth is stimulated by cooperating populations on the other islands who see the huge income potential to all of the CNMI because of it. Notice I said decades. This won’t and can’t happen “‘overnight” unless a very deep pocketed developer came into the picture and essentially developed the island by themselves a la the Seychelles one-island-one-resort business plan. This is unlikely. A far more realistic expectation is a decades-long buildup of needed infrastructure (airport, seaport, power, water, roads, medical facilities etc.) leading to smaller hotels and building up to several high-quality resorts, much as happened on Saipan. This process would likely start with currently in vogue eco-tourism businesses and small eco-cruise ships, followed by the hotels mentioned just above.

*Constitutionally mandated homesteading is underway, with lots being disbursed by Department of Public Lands’ Homestead Division on Pagan even now. New residential homesteaders cannot survive except on a primitive level without some of the infrastructure mentioned above and with an income/job producing industry to foster quality of life and produce a liquid cash stream to maintain it and the goods and services that make it a quality experience. Homesteaders can and should be the mainstay labor providers and thus the recipients of much of the largess that will emanate from the growing new tourism industry on Pagan over the years. The resurgence of a new society built upon the traditions of the two older ones that came before will make a core cultural group that can act as the glue to keep this new group together as it moves forward and grows into whatever shape the new residents and businesses work toward.

As mentioned above, none of this comes cheap. So who should pay for it? CPA has a well proven set of financing methods to initiate ports startups and to foster their growth and improvement over time. As they begin the essential first step of airport and seaport development, they can bring these methods to bear to generate the money needed to build both types of ports simultaneously. Another key area to obtain financing is the Northern Islands Mayor’s Office, which has $2 million or $3 million budgeted to it most years and has a mandate to foster growth in those 10 Northern Islands where appropriate. Finally, the NIMO, CPA, the Northern Marianas Housing Corp.,) and other stakeholders could seek out grants and other forms of federal assistance for rural areas that are already in place. If Pagan isn’t currently rural I don’t what is.

There is some historical development in the late Japanese era that gives a boost to World War II buff tourism and provides an interesting and contrasting historical context that can be used to the advantage of the newly burgeoning tourism industry on Pagan as it develops. Another useful item that comes from this time frame are the pre-engineered sites and general plans for the airport (now with a lava flow covering part of it) and the seaport/loading dock placement from that era.

As a final note we should notice that boats are slow but provide a very economical way to transport bulk goods over a distance, while airplanes are fast and allow for timely, and if in sufficient volume, reduce the cost of transporting people to and from a semi-remote spot like Pagan. The one exception that combines elements of both are boats like The Challenger, currently homeported on Saipan. This boat and others like it, used around the world, are built for use as liveaboards. They are designed for fast, comfortable travel over sometimes rough seas to make commuting time quicker and more manageable for the non-extreme traveler. They are mostly used for fishing, diving, island exploration and the like, all of which are available in great abundance around Pagan and the other Northern Islands.

Heck yes. Build an airport. Build a small seaport. Begin the process of making Pagan a utilizable and accessible asset.

Medical Referral
Well, it turns out that three lawmakers under orders from an administration honcho to find a place to save money in the Medical Referral process have come up with an idea which will quickly become an ill-written bill to strip the Medical Referral service of some likely much needed flexibility in dealing with sick, indigent patients.

To disclose: I use Medical Referral services and appreciate their excellent responsiveness and their ability to tailor response to their clientele’s needs. They work hard. In my case, my insurance or my wallet pays the medical expenses and so I have never needed to use that portion of their services. This new legislation won’t affect me, but it will affect a large number of folks from our islands that have neither the insurance nor the personal means to pay to keep themselves alive in the case of serious illness. To the extent that we can, as taxpayers, afford to support this relatively inexpensive department and their extremely important, life-or-death services, we should do so.

I have no problem with auditing to ensure compliance with current rules or procedures, but please don’t kill off some of our less fortunate citizens to save a buck or two.

Thanks for reading Sour Grapes.

Bruce Bateman | Author
Bruce A. Bateman ( resides on Saipan with a wife, a son, and an unknown number of boonie dogs. He has owned and operated a number of unusual businesses and most recently worked as the marketing manager for MVA. Bruce likes to read, travel, tinker with bicycles, hike, swim, and play a bit of golf. He is opinionated and writes when the moon is full and the mood strikes.

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