Sablan: Include insular areas in infrastructure plan

Mar 13, 2017

Saipan Tribune WASHINGTON, D.C.—Insular areas must be included in the $1 trillion infrastructure plan that President Donald Trump has promised, said Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP).

The House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs held a hearing Friday on infrastructure in the insular areas and Indian county, which Sablan said will help establish the need for further federal investment in capital improvements.

“Insular and tribal people are among the nation’s poorest,” Sablan told the subcommittee. “And the key to raising standards of living and developing our economies is first-rate infrastructure.

“Today’s hearing can establish a strong record for what our infrastructure needs are, so that when the President’s proposal is legislated this subcommittee will be able to advocate for the islands and tribes.”

Trump promised during his campaign and at last week’s address to a joint session of Congress that his administration would offer a $1 trillion investment in revitalizing America’s roads, airports, and other public infrastructure.

“To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States—financed through both public and private capital—creating millions of new jobs,” the President said. “This effort will be guided by two core principles: Buy American, and hire American.”

Nikolao Pula, acting assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs, was among the witnesses at Friday morning’s hearing. He provided an overview of capital improvement grants managed by the Office of Insular Affairs. Thirty percent of the funding goes for schools. Solid waste projects receive 18 percent. The other half of funding is divided among energy, hospitals, public buildings, and other areas of development.

Pula also gave some specific examples of projects he said are yielding positive results. “In American Samoa, the $8 million, 134-foot ship M/V Manu’atele now plies the water between Manu’a and the main island of Tutuila, providing both cargo and passengers transport.

“In the CNMI, $29 million in CIP funds facilitated the transformation of the Puerto Rico dump into a beautiful public park next to the lagoon for residents and tourists to enjoy.”

The Office of Insular Affairs administers $27.72 million in “CNMI Covenant Funds” for island infrastructure each year; and each insular area governor decides which specific projects are funded.

OIA allocates the money among the island governments based on how well each manages its money and accounts for grants. Over the years this system has resulted in less and less money going to the Marianas.

Sablan pointed out that Saipan still does not have 24-hour water, a public health issue. The Marianas congressman believes that public health and safety concerns should be prioritized—or at least taken into consideration—when OIA distributes CIP funds. (PR)