BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
Journal Staff

Vincent P. Arriola, director of the Department
of Public Works, and Linda J. Ibanez, special
projects coordinator at the agency, have
oversight of the building permitting and inspection
process for Guam.

Photo by Maureen N. Maratita

While the director of the Guam Department of Public Works understands contractor frustrations over the approval process, he said there are reasons why permit adherence is essential.

Vincent P. Arriola, director of the DPW said there is good news, but not everything can — or should — change overnight. 

In addition, he is planning to close a loophole that he said is causing problems on-island.

From Jan. 13, the One Stop Center will open three days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday and be fully-staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on those days. Arriola said, “It’s been open; but we don’t have a full complement of agencies.” That will change come-mid January. Arriola said ideally the center would be open each weekday, but staffing and budget make that difficult. “Given what we have, it’s going to be three days a week,” he told the Journal. That does not mean that DPW and the other agencies would remain happy with the status quo, he said.

As to recommendations made by the Governor’s Task Force to Reform Permitting Procedures (See story on Page 22), Arriola said, “We’re trying. We certainly are not going to fix everything in one shot.”

The DPW mission is clear, he said.

“Our job is to make sure that residents, commercial entities, contractors follow the law,” Arriola told the Journal. “There’s statutes; there’s building codes, there’s rules and regulations, there’s standards — and those have to be followed, because that’s the environment we live in.”

Designing a building or a residence can take anywhere from a year to three years, he said. “Then [people] come here for the permitting process and they want it within a week. That’s just not going to happen.”

No matter the number of staff, Arriola said DPW ensures that all projects meet code — to include the structure, electrical, plumbing, mechanical requirements and more.

“We protect the public. Our job is also to protect the owners of these buildings,” he said. “A contractor, a designer or an engineer submits plans and we may find something that’s off — and we have.” Other projects have no issues, he said.

A typical time for the permitting process is tough to predict, he said. “A home could run from 1,500 square feet to well over 5,000 [square feet],” Arriola said. What the residence includes could also be a factor, he said.

Linda J. Ibanez, special projects coordinator at DPW said, “If everything – all the requirements — the plans, the design are submitted and cleared by land management – the zoning, that’s the first process — then all the requirements are submitted to DPW. If it’s all complete, then it goes through the process.”

The various government agencies then conduct their own research and inspections, Arriola said.

For example, he said, the Guam Fire Department works directly with DPW. “[GFD] is there, the bank is there — because we’re doing this in increments. When they pour the footing, everyone is there. If the first increment calls for payment of footing in the amount of $10,000 the bank will go out there,” he said.

The Guam Environmental Protection Agency typically reviews plans for construction after they’ve been approved by the Guam Department of Public Works.

The first step is for Guam EPA to review the plans to see if they meet the approval requirements for a permit. EPA personnel will then periodically visit the construction site to ensure they adhere to those standards.

The EPA’s permit team typically handles about 1,000 permit applications per year, which may seem daunting for a three-person team. The team, however, doesn’t actually review the permits themselves.

“Our permit team are administrative personnel,” Nicholas Rupley, public information officer for Guam EPA, said. “The plans for a given project are reviewed by the personnel in whatever programs the project falls under.”

Source: Department of Public Departments

Guam EPA has various programs, such as the Air Pollution Control Program, the Hazardous Waste Program, the Pesticide Control Program and the Water Pollution Control Program. Professional technical personnel within these programs — whether engineers or inspectors — will review projects based on their type, which will determine which program they fall under. For instance, most projects will require sewer connections and proper drainage for erosion control. Because of this, most projects will be reviewed by an engineer from the Water Pollution Control Programs. However, only certain types of projects will require review by the Hazardous Waste Program. Almost all projects will be required to meet standards to mitigate a dust nuisance during construction, but only restaurants will require inspectors to check for grease traps.

Approval will take anywhere from 10 to 20 working days for most projects, but it could be quicker or much longer based on the complexity of the project and complications that might arise, Rupley said.

  Although the Guam EPA permitting team has been able to handle the workload, Rupley said more personnel would be welcome.

  “We’re able to get the job done with what we have, but it would definitely be a good thing to have more people,” he said.

DPW is short on personnel, Arriola said. “Today we don’t have enough staff. … I think we’re looking to bring two more inspectors, and also beef up the CIP side with construction inspectors.”

Arriola said he understands the problems and pressure currently facing contractors who take on a project. As to timing of receiving a permit, he said, “I think on a small project, a month is fine. However, he said contractors need to ensure everything is in order. “Don’t give us a set of plans to build a house on a certain piece of property and your easements aren’t correct, or your lot is not zoned correctly.” Some contractors are more prepared than others, he said.

In October and November, DPW approved 140 projects, including solar and government work; 34 of the projects were commercial ones.

“Guam is busy,” Arriola said. “That’s great news for the hardware stores, the building suppliers — great news for labor. Things are really picking up. On the other hand, that falls on the government to make sure that rules and regs, the code is followed.”

There are fewer problems with construction of a building or home — the structural, mechanical, electric and plumbing aspects, he said. “It’s actually the property issues that we have problems with every once in a while — drainage, flooding in low-lying areas. Commercially, you have to take care of your own run-off, whatever water you generate, and there’s ways to do that.”

Arriola said he is concerned at an issue with subdivisions. If a developer builds six houses of above that is considered a subdivision, which requires specific runoff and drainage measures. Ibanez said that a ponding basin to EPA’s codes would be needed. “What’s happening is they are doing two at a time, or three at a time to get away from the subdivision requirement,” Arriola said. “In two or three years there’s 10 in the same place, and they all look alike.” That creates flooding issues, he said. That issue is affecting the village street-paving program, he said. “I’m not sure how we close that loophole, but we’re certainly looking at it.” – Wayne Chargualaf contributed to this story. mbj