SEVERAL local community members are expected to attend a Coastal Resources Management public hearing at the multi-purpose center at 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 6, to air their concerns regarding the reconstruction of Airport Road, which they believe will destroy their properties.
The local residents first raised their concern when the road improvement project was proposed in August 2002.
One of them, Joseph T. Torres, expressed his objection to the design of the project, which, he said, would cause erosion and flooding. He also brought the matter to the attention of the Federal Highway Administration.
Other residents on Airport Road share the same concern, Variety was told.
In January 2003, Coastal Resources Management issued a major siting permit, which, among other conditions, required the Department of Public Works to construct off-site drainage improvement prior to constructing the proposed road improvements.
DPW was also required to “take into consideration the comments received during public hearing and shall prepare written responses to all significant comments.”
In February 2021, the governor’s office announced it was moving ahead with several road projects including those involving Tun Herman Road also known as Airport Road or Route 35.
In a recent letter to Division of Coastal Resources Management Director Janice Castro, Joseph T. Torres said he is concerned about DPW’s “in-house” design and requests to amend the major siting permit so DPW can reconstruct Airport Road without an off-site drainage as required in the major siting permit.
“We believe this ‘in-house’ design is incomplete, poor in design and will cause more damage,” said Torres who also submitted photos showing how runoffs would further ruin properties in the area if an off-site drainage is not constructed prior to road reconstruction.
Robert T. Torres, an attorney for the Torres family, asked Castro to deny DPW’s request to amend CRM’s major siting permit.
He said DPW should be ordered to comply with the CRM regulations regarding an amendment request, and only when it has submitted a complete, compliant and fully-supported request should CRM entertain the amendment request.
Open Government Act
In his email to CRM legal counsel Alison Michelle Nelson, attorney Torres said CRM violated the Open Government Act for failing to give proper notice to the public regarding a CRM meeting on April 5, 2021.
“As you know the Airport Road residents are particularly affected by the matter and we have requested notice of the agency proceedings... [N]o one informed us of this board meeting. The agenda…has the Route 35 issue for discussion [and] ‘for review.’ We assert that CRM and DPW have violated the Open Government Act and challenge this agency meeting action as void, among other concerns. Clearly there is an effort to subvert the process. DPW officials know of the matter and yet the residents and interested parties are excluded from a board meeting the day before the public hearing and three days before the noticed CRM…meeting,” attorney Torres said.
In her reply, Nelson said a written public notice of the meeting was provided in compliance with 1 CMC 9910 by publication of the agenda on March 31 and April 1 in Saipan Tribune and Marianas Variety.
She said several members of the public were in attendance, and that an executive session was on the agenda.
“The purpose of the executive session was to consult with legal counsel. This purpose was publicly announced before convening the executive session as required by 1 CMC 9912. DPW and members of the public did not participate in the executive session. They were given the opportunity to comment and answer questions on the record once the executive session concluded,” Nelson said, adding that no board action was taken at the meeting.
She also recognized that CRM’s major siting permit requires the public to be given the opportunity to comment on the proposed design through a permit hearing.
“As you know, a permit hearing is scheduled for [Tuesday] evening. I understand that you intend to make oral statements at that time. In addition, your numerous written comments…have been included in the administrative record. Your comments and statements will be addressed by the final permit decision as required by CRM regulations,” Nelson told attorney Torres.
The lawyer reiterated that no one from CRM took the time to let the Torres family know of the CRM meeting during which “apparently, the very issues of concern were discussed with the very board members, in executive session and to our exclusion.”
He added, “DPW was present yet despite our substantial comments known to CRM, [it] chose to deliberately withhold letting us know of this meeting…. [T]here are affected residents that CRM knows of and has known of for over 20 years. Further, while our comments are received by CRM, of more concern to me is whether CRM is informing the member agencies of our comments. It is apparent to me, for example, that DEQ is unaware of the technical comments we submitted since they are asking questions about issues or topics which we have discussed extensively.”