BY WAYNE CHARGUALAF
Although economic activity has slowed down on the island, one major project that Tinian is betting its future on is continuing to move forward, albeit slowly.
The Tinian Diamond Casino is a more than $16 million project that was originally slated for completion by the end of May. Now the project has been pushed back 30 to 60 days, largely due to a slowdown in the delivery of supplies. Phase 2 of the project — which will be a Wyndham Hotel and Resort — is still in the design stages and the projected cost and completion date are still to be determined.
Work has been able to continue on the casino, however, as Pacific Rim Land Development Inc. — the firm commissioned with designing and building the project — has implemented a variety of safety measures and incentives for the workforce, which is comprised primarily of workers from the Saipan and Guam.
“We’re doing social distancing, using [personal protective equipment] and we have a daily checkup,” Kathleen Davis, a project manager with Pacific Rim which is overseeing the casino project, said. As to the construction employees, she said, “We added $2 per hour to their pay, because even though there’s a pandemic they are still working. They’re also away from their families at this time, so to show appreciation for their sacrifices we decided to add additional pay, as well as overtime pay.”
Another major project on the island is the divert airfield, for which the Commonwealth Ports Authority, Northern Mariana Islands government and U.S. Department of Defense signed a 40-year lease agreement worth $21.9 million for the project in May of last year.
“From what I’m hearing, that project is still moving forward,” Aldan said. “The clock didn’t stop for that project because of the coronavirus.”
Construction for the project, which was already over budget and about one year behind schedule, was scheduled to begin next year (See “Tinian divert airfield project behind schedule” in the Feb. 17 issue of The Journal). The airfield is projected to cost about $350 million.
Tinian currently has zero cases of COVID-19. Mayor Edwin P. Aldan said that without proper funding, resources and support, he’s not sure how much longer he can keep it that way, or how well the island will be able to manage an outbreak if one does occur.
“We do not have enough of anything to operate a quarantine site or treat patients because Tinian has limited capabilities since we have a clinic, not a hospital,” Aldan said. “Tinian currently does not have a medical doctor on staff, just physician assistants who communicate with medical doctors on Saipan for consultation. Therefore, it will be challenging to provide adequate and sufficient healthcare for patients under investigation or those who test positive for COVID.”
Aldan also said Tinian’s current count of zero positive cases comes with caveats.
He said,“We say we have zero cases, but what’s that based on?” Aldan said an individual who traveled to Tinian briefly in early March tested positive when the person returned home. “They did contact tracing and said that we’re all clear, but we don’t have the ability to test on Tinian right now and without that we can’t be sure.”
Although Tinian doesn’t have test kits, Aldan is hoping to get them soon.
“If we don’t have any hiccups, we’re hoping to get them sometime within the next two weeks,” he said. “With the plan right now, we would be allotted enough supplies to test about 50 people per day.”
The Tinian mayor’s office staff consists of 76 people who serve about 3,000 residents. He said that for the most part people and businesses on the island have been cooperating and adhering to social distancing and quarantine measures. Although some think the precautionary measures are unnecessary since Tinian currently has no positively identified cases of COVID-19, most people and businesses are supportive of the measures.
“I think that any and all precautionary measures that will keep our reported positive COVID case number at zero is very necessary,” he said. “Tinian is such a small community, so one person being infected with COVID will mean that almost the entire community is infected due to the tight knit relationships in our community and the interconnectedness of each person to the other.” mbj