Permitting impasse hobbles BIG project on Tinian

Posted on Dec 28 2016

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Bridge Investment Group’s plan to build a $150-million resort hotel that offers ferry services between Tinian and Saipan, along with casino and hotel operations, is currently facing problems with multiple government agencies.

For one, Coastal Resources Management is concerned that port-related activity, which is under its purview, does not include casino operations, which would be one of the offerings of the Titanic-themed hotel resort.

Because of this, the Department of Public Lands said the lease is in violation of DPL’s grant of public domain to the Commonwealth Ports Authority because the latter has leased out the property to an entity that engages in an activity that is considered not port-related.

Despite these permitting issues, Tinian Mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas applauds BIG for its contributions to Tinian and the community, “especially in line with the fact that the economy of Tinian has really taken a turn for the worst.”

San Nicolas wishes that the multi-million project pushes through at the soonest possible time to help Tinian’s economy.

“On behalf of the municipality of Tinian and Aguiguan, I am here to state our 100 percent support on the lease to BIG, 100 percent support of CPA’s interpretation of what port-related activity is…If it’s only a matter of definition, then maybe it is something we could both come out together with and figure out how to overcome,” said San Nicolas in a letter read during a CPA board meeting last week.

“BIG has to comply with every environmental rule and regulation; that is totally understood, but with respect to whether or not they would be able to seek permitting from CRM depending on what port-related means, I am hoping that we could work together to resolve this issue,” he added.

Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) seconded San Nicolas’ support of BIG, speaking at the same CPA board meeting.

“I stand here before you to express support for the issue at hand. I am aware that there are some issues that are being raised—listening to the previous testimonials a few minutes ago, I could not help but recognize the significance of this project to move forward—that hinges a lot on CPA as well as other agencies that are potentially involved,” said Hofschneider.

CPA board member and Tinian representative Kimerlyn King-Hinds said she also supports the BIG project.

“I can state personally that I do not support the transfer of CPA property to DPL, but what I do support is the development—because it directly affects the people of Tinian and it promotes job growth,” said King-Hinds.

King-Hinds then questioned if the only way to proceed with the project was to revert the land to DPL.

“What if the only way to move forward is to transfer so that they could comply with permitting?”

San Nicolas was against the idea of reverting the land to DPL because of the berthing of ships on the harbor, but was open to negotiation.

“Hopefully, it doesn’t get there, but I would think that together, we could come up with a solution regarding that. But if it came to that, I would be more than willing to sit down and listen and talk about it,” he said.

BIG is having problems obtaining their major siting application permits from CRM, which is related to problems with a 40-year lease with CPA and BIG, ultimately hindering the project’s ability to move forward.

BIG CEO Philip Mendiola-Long also sent a letter to the CPA board to discuss the delay in the project.

“BIG would like to know if CPA has made it’s determination and its stand on whether CPA would revert the port area on San Jose harbor on Tinian back to DPL,” read Mendiola-Long’s letter.

Mendiola-Long asked for the chance to do a thorough presentation to the CPA board to inform the board members of the specifics of the project.

BIG chief logistics officer Trenton Conner read the letter to the CPA board and shared his own testimony.

The project was first due to break ground January 2016, which has yet to happen.

“BIG has not yet broken the ground on the major project. We just need a definitive answer as far as the CPA board is concerned regarding the CPA-DPL matter at hand,” explained Conner.

Conner shared that the project is estimated to bring 785 job opportunities once completed, which he said is an “opportunity for the economy of Tinian and the CNMI as a whole to avail of.”

King-Hinds shared with BIG representatives the venue of the next CPA board meeting, which would be on Tinian.

“We would be sure to accommodate your presentation. You would get due notice,” she said.

“The issue with regards to the investment at the port at this point is not a CPA issue. It is a CRM permitting issue. The debate with regards to the transfer of the land is in consideration of the support of your investment, in terms of how to get over the CRM permitting requirement, so the issue is really not with regards to the CPA’s position as to its support of BIG. Clearly, CPA has given BIG a 40-year lease. The hurdles that BIG faces today are the CRM permitting requirements,” said King-Hinds.

Conner responded that BIG’s concerns is whether CPA would be entertaining the lease if the land gets reverted back to DPL, and what would happen after that.

“We need a definitive answer so that we know what is the next step and what approach [BIG] needs to take and relay it to [the BIG] board so that they can make a definitive decision,” said Conner.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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