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CNMI Veterans Cemetery expansion, improvement project begins

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CNMI officials gathered on Tuesday morning for a groundbreaking ceremony at the veterans cemetery in Marpi on Tuesday.

The expansion and improvement project for the cemetery was funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-National Cemetery Administration, and initiated in 2017 by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, the CNMI Office of Grants Management, and the CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs.

According to the administration, the $3.2 million project will include the following:

• Three columbarium structures and 240 double-depth crypts.

• A new administrative building to assist visitors and families to make funeral arrangements, a maintenance building, and on-site restrooms.

• Light fixtures with solar photovoltaic or PV units to absorb the sunlight and serve as an alternate source of energy to generate electricity.

• A committal shelter that provides additional covered portions for family members during services on rainy or hot days.

• Decorative perimeter fencing for added security.

• A Memorial Wall for families to visit and remember loved ones.

Following an invocation by Father Leo Neil, the opening remarks were given by Office of Veterans Affairs Executive Officer Stanley T. Iakopo, who highlighted the sacrifices made by veterans. “We all die two deaths,” he said, adding that the second death is “when no one speaks our name or tells our story.” He added, “Veterans honored their commitments…. We must keep ours.”

In his remarks, Governor Torres commended the Office of Veterans Affairs; the Office of Grants Management & State Clearinghouse; the project contractor, RNV Construction; the project architect, RIM; and the project construction manager, GHD Inc.

The ceremonial groundbreaking at the CNMI Veterans Cemetery on Tuesday included CNMI dignitaries led by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios.  Photo by K-Andrea Evarose S. Limol

“Today, on behalf of Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios and the people of the CNMI, and all of the families of those who have sacrificed in serving our nation, thank you for this extension and expansion project,” Torres added.

Andre Tenorio of GHD Inc. spoke about the civil design of the project,

and the scope of work, which includes site improvements, signage, extension of canopies on both sides of the cemetery chapel, covered areas for the generators and water tanks, a Gettysburg Address Monument, and a Memorial Wall for families.

“We look forward to delivering a successful project to the CNMI,” Tenorio said.

Iakopo said the project aims to provide a “more decorated and more dignified place for our veterans and their loved ones.”

He added, “This is a combination and a collaboration of a lot of agencies and people, most especially our governor and lt. governor who have always been at the forefront in supporting the veterans. We are seeing the fruits and the results of all of that.”

Office of Grants Management & State Clearinghouse Administrator Epi Cabrera said the project may be completed in December this year.

He noted that it all started with a phone call three years ago with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Cemetery Grants Program Director George Eisenbach.

He said Eisenbach gave the grants office one week to prepare to plead its case in Washington, D.C., in order to receive federal funding for the project.

Press Secretary Kevin Bautista said once the funding was approved, the project went through the federal procurement process.

“There was due diligence to make sure that everything was done in the right way — we did not want to cut corners,” he added.

Cabrera noted that “everything had to run through our federal grantor in Washington, D.C.”

He said the administration is now working with the Department of Public Lands to clear out the area leading to the public cemetery near the veterans cemetery.

He noted that the public cemetery has had no occupants since it opened nearly a decade ago.

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