Wednesday, October 24, 2007

PaganWatch Answers Arkle & Farrell

Letters to the Editor

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

'Got ground-penetrating radar?'

The recent pre-election letters to the editor by Mr. Thomas Arkle and his friend Don Farrell needs a response for the sake of those who don’t already know the history of these two Azmar employees.

In 2003 and 2004 Azmar tried every dirty trick in the book, from secret meetings with politicians to attempted character assassination of anyone who opposed them, in order to gain exclusive mining rights to large areas of Pagan. Unfortunately for them, J.G. Sablan Rock Quarry Inc. already had a permit and friends inside the Marianas Public Lands Authority who were determined to help them keep it.

While it might be hard to prove, many people close to the issue believe that MPLA never seriously considered the Azmar application. At the time, Cinta Kaipat and PaganWatch fought hard to get MPLA do its due diligence and both evaluate the mining opportunity and give all interested parties a fair chance to bid in an open and above board manner. Ultimately, we prevailed and Governor Fitial created the Pagan Mining Task Force to support the new Department of Public Lands in evaluating the mining opportunity and determining the terms under which legitimate mining companies can bid for a mining permit. These terms include following the law in regards to protections for the environment, and following a clearly defined bidding process to ensure that all bids are evaluated fairly.

Arkle and Farrell’s group is welcome and encouraged to bid. However, the terms of their original mining proposition to MPLA was certainly not in the best interests of the CNMI and is not likely to be successful. That proposal could only be characterized as grossly exploitive. There was lots of risk but very little financial benefit to the community, while the principals of Azmar, which included Arkle and Farrell, would have enjoyed windfall profits. There were no environmental safeguards planned, no verifiable financing, and no mining operation plan. Over the years, Azmar has behaved more like a retired military men’s club than a serious business. There are also grave concerns about Azmar’s disregard of the Historic Preservation Office’s instructions that cultural and historic artifacts in the Marianas were not to be touched or removed from the islands.

J.G. Sablan and its would-be partner, real estate company Bridgecreek Development, are also invited to respond to an RFP and bid on the mining opportunity in an open and fair manner. However, like Azmar, J.G. Sablan does not welcome a competitive bid process. Instead, J.G. Sablan wants the original terms of the decade-old permit restored and has been pursuing that goal in court. This has had the effect of killing any interest by legitimate mining companies since a court decision in favor of J.G. Sablan would undermine their own mining investment. In this way, J.G. Sablan, the company that squandered the mining opportunity for a decade while nature literally washed and blew most of the pozzolan into the sea, continues to block any progress on mining what pozzolan is left on Pagan. Nothing can be expected to change until the court actions are finally ended.

Meanwhile, Arkle and Farrell might consider using this time to prepare a legitimate bid. But if they are at all serious, they would do well to disassociate themselves from the Azmar group and find some legitimate and capable business partners. Azmar seems to be less interested in mining than in collecting World War II artifacts and finding that elusive WWII underground Japanese aircraft hangar that is rumored to be somewhere on Pagan. Or perhaps Arkle and Farrell should concentrate on that instead. Maybe if they try the ground-penetrating radar again, but over a wider area this time, they’ll be successful. It would be a very interesting find, and I, for one, am pretty sure there is no danger of anyone trying to smuggle that out of the Marianas.

Peter J. Perez

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