SAIPAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT Saipan — Lee C. Cabrera executive director of the Commonwealth Ports Authority said the agency is trying to make at least $45 000 available to pay the U.S. Navy for the planned removal of three coral heads posing a hazard to navigation in the island’s seaport channel.

Cabrera told the Journal “That’s what we are estimating as a ballpark figure.” He said “We are hoping to spend less.”

In June 2004 Carlos H. Salas consultant to the CPA said the authority would dredge the channel and remove the coral heads. (See “CPA will remove more boulders to accommodate navy ships” story in the June 14 2004 issue of the Journal.)

Salas made the remarks following announcements by Rear Adm. Arthur J. Johnson then commander of Naval Forces Marianas before the Saipan Chamber of Commerce on June 2 2004. He said that an increase in the number of port calls by military vessels to Saipan was expected that year.

Cabrera said Gov. Benigno R. Fitial has requested assistance from Rear Adm. Charles J. Leidig commander of Naval Forces Marianas for the Navy to remove the coral heads to keep the channel’s depth at 40 feet. “Right now the depth is between 30 feet and 33 feet ” Cabrera said. He said the Navy had conducted an assessment of the channel and identified the three coral heads known in port parlance as D-Tons or Dangers to Navigation that need to be removed.

Cabrera said that the easiest way to remove the coral heads is through explosives. But due to environmental concerns he indicated that CPA may ask that tugboats and wire slings be instead used to remove the D-Tons.

Military ships have the deepest draft — that portion of the vessel constantly submerged — down to 32 feet. Cabrera said cargo ships have a 20-foot draft while oil tankers have 29 foot.

The plan to make the seaport channel at least 40 feet deep from sea level is incorporated in CPA’s Harbor Improvement Project.

CPA has received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct maintenance dredging of the seaport’s channel. Separate funding is still being identified for this Cabrera said. Application for maintenance dredging was submitted also in 2004.

In August 2003 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided CPA with a report showing that the seaport’s channel is dangerous to the Navy’s vessels as it has shallow spots and coral heads.

Cabrera said NOAA identified 80 D-Tons across the channel of which six were labeled “critical spots”. Of the six three were removed in 2004 by CPA through a contractor. The Saipan Chamber of Commerce estimates that Navy port calls for rest and recreation brought in $42 million in revenues to the Northern Mariana Islands government’s coffers from 1986 to 2000.

According to the chamber some $7 million was also generated from the port calls from 2001 to 2005. MBJ