Sablan says delay in PSS Yutu recovery projects is ‘troubling’

Guerrero says PSS had just decided that Hopwood School will remains at its current location

Christina E. Sablan and Patrick Guerrero

Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) is troubled that many of the Public School System projects that were supposed to help PSS recover from the devastation of Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018 remain pending up to now—nearly four years later.

At an “informal meeting” last week between Public Assistance Office’s Patrick Guerrero and members of the House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee in the House chamber, Sablan said $1 million paid to PSS to date out of the $62.5 million that had been awarded to PSS is not that much.

Sablan said this is especially true when it sounds like most of the $1 million was actually spent in the first six months to a year after Yutu, which happened almost four years ago.
“And I’m really perplexed,” Sablan said.

Sablan raised these concerns after Guerrero, who is also the Governor’s Authorized Representative for COVID-19, disclosed at that meeting that the federal government awarded PSS $62.5 million for Yutu recovery, but that the Public Assistance Office has so far paid only just a little over $1 million to PSS.

Guerrero said they depend on PSS submitting reimbursement requests to them. He also stated, among other things, that they do anticipate request from PSS for a few million dollars coming in within the next 30 to 60 days for the work that has already been completed.

Sablan was perplexed why it’s taking this long, considering that when they had their briefing with PSS, they did ask some other questions about the status of these projects and it sounded like almost all of their Federal Emergency Management Agency projects were still in the very early stages such as pre-design, draft Architecture and Engineering design, and conceptual design.

Sablan said she would really like to better understand why these projects have barely moved forward, and if and what can be done to address and unstick this logjam that they’re seeing.

“And what is the risk if you know of FEMA taking over the management of awards to PSS, if there really has been so little movement on these projects?” the lawmaker asked.

Guerrero said he was told during his visit a couple of times with the FEMA Regional Office that the justification for an extension on projects should not include the COVID-19 pandemic. Guerrero said he would always argue against this, considering that the world “stopped” for at least a year due to the pandemic. “I know it’s been over two years,” he said.

Looking at his data, Guerrero pointed out that the pandemic started in January 2020 and that before the start of the pandemic, PSS was only awarded less than $10 million for Yutu recovery.

He said most of this award started in January of 2020 and that, in fact, Hopwood Junior High School wasn’t even awarded for their recovery until November of 2020, or not even two years ago.

Guerrero said to add up to that total of $62 million, $50 million plus was awarded in the last 18 months. He said PSS is dependent on receiving the FEMA awards so they’ve been doing some A&E designs only for the last 18 months.

Guerrero said that, for some projects, PSS made some decisions on how to use the funds (“maybe they don’t want to go back to what it was pre-disaster or they want to use or reserve the funds for something else.”)
He noted that Hopwood only has the funding in the last two years, even as PSS and PAO were looking at plans whether to relocate Hopwood or rebuild at the same school site. Guerrero said they did their due diligence by conducting a few studies. “At the end of the day, the decision is PSS decision, and they’ve made that just recently that they want to remain down there,” he said.

With that final decision, Guerrero said they can now move forward with the Hopwood rebuilding project.
He said four years have gone by since the Yutu disaster but less than half of that has been trying to get the ball rolling.

“Now that the ball’s rolling for a lot of these projects, hopefully it can gain some speed, and start progressing at a faster pace,” Guerrero said.

He said the Hopwood rebuilding project is a two-phase project. Guerrero said they want to build Hopwood a temporary additional 20 classrooms because they know that the rebuild is going to take two to three years, based on the A&E firm’s estimates for design and construction.

“And we don’t want them in this multi-track system for the next two to three years,” said Guerrero, adding that they don’t want Hopwood students attending classes in tents.

He said they are looking at these temporary classrooms as a temporary solution that could withstand typhoons.
Guerrero said they are looking at other sources of funding for the temporary classrooms. He said the funding source has not been identified yet, but they are using their own funding right now to do some design and placement of those temporary classrooms.

Guerrero said that, although there has been a decision at PSS to rebuild at the same Hopwood site, they have not ruled out relocating Hopwood eventually. He said they hired Hofschneider Engineering for a $140,000 contract to do a feasibility study in order to determine whether Hopwood should remain at its current location in Chalan Piao or move to As Perdido.

“We paid for it under our office. I know this body [House] set aside some money but we paid for it under our office,” he said.

The House appropriated $50,000 in the government’s budget for fiscal year 2022 to fund the feasibility study.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at
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