More Navy ships for the Pacific region

The Department of the Navy released Dec. 11 the annual 30-year shipbuilding plan, which moves to continue buildup and is resourced to achieve a 355-ship naval fleet.

The 30-year shipbuilding plan is consistent with the National Defense Strategy, which recognizes China and Russia as near peer threats the release said.  “To ensure that we maintain superiority over these threats, the NDS requires a modern, ready force to operate in the Pacific maritime region,” the department said.  “The Department has realigned more than $45 billion over the Future Years Defense Program to Navy shipbuilding and other priorities as described in the Office of Management and Budget’s fiscal framework,” it further said.

Whether the incoming Biden-Harris administration will retain the plan is uncertain.

Readers can find the Navy’s report to Congress at www.media.defense.gov.

 

NMI readies to welcome visitors in January; needs construction companies

Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres said he plans to open tourism in the Northern Mariana Islands – firstly from South Korea, which is expected to begin in January. “We are working with some of the airlines,” he said.

“We’re trying this out, and I hope it works,” he said, speaking at a membership meeting of the Rotary Club of Guam on Dec. 10.

As of now, the plan is that for the first five days on island, the visitors will have no community interaction – but the plan would allow them for instance to play golf, but only be served if essential by hotel staff. “They will be secluded from the community,” he said. He recognized that quarantine of visitors on their return to Korea (and also Japan) still exists.

Torres said bringing tourism back is in hopes of bringing back jobs and a sense of normalcy to the community, while keeping the islands’ residents safe.

The governor said as regards the economy, “Our biggest challenge is construction.”

The NMI received $243.94 million as a Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We need a lot more construction companies,” Torres said.

In addition, Torres said the NMI is preparing for the vaccine, and have acquired 10 cold-storage units to store the vaccines once they arrive. The vaccine is estimated to be available by the end of the month, and that front-line and emergency workers should be the first ones to receive the vaccines, because they need it the most.

In terms of safety of the vaccine, Torres said, “As much as I feel we’re safe here, I will take the vaccine. Whether it’s 90 or 95% safe, that’s 95% safer than I was before the vaccine,” he said.

The governor reiterated his plans at a news conference on Dec. 11 and told the Journal he would not be asking Korea to change a 14-day quarantine for returning residents. “I respect their process,” he said. “Every island, every state, every nation has their own way of doing things.” He said he would like to express the islands of the NMI would offer a safe location as a vacation experience. “That’s what I’d like to market; if you come here your trip will be worth it and you will return [home] safe.” He said he wanted tourists to feel the trip justified a 14-day quarantine when returning home.

In other comments on tourism Torres said he would also be reaching out to discuss the return of the Japan market, possibly as early as next week. “We would like to give this opportunity to renew that partnership,” he said. The Japanese had been repeat travelers multiple times, he said. “Those are the markets we want to continue to promote.”

In addition, he told the Journal that there was no decision yet on the Saipan Chamber’s request to not impose higher fees for documents, reports and registrations at the Department of Commerce in the bill introduced by Rep. Leepan T. Guerrero. Stressing the good relations he has with the chamber, Torres said he would be discussing the letter with the organization. However, he said, “I know where Congressman Leepan is coming from.”

As to the gaming industry, he said he would like to see all fees paid and would also be discussing licensing with the attorney general. If tourism from China and flights returned to the U.S. and by extension, the NMI, he said, “We’ll make sure they enjoy the CNMI as much as any other tourist here.”

In other NMI news, the Northern Marianas Technical Institute will re-open Jan. 4 for classroom instruction.

Warrant Villagomez, chairman of the NMI COVID-19 Task Force; said the same rules for face-to-face instruction would apply as those currently adopted in public and private schools.

 

GVB concerned at effect of cannabis on visitors

The Guam Visitor’s Bureau held its monthly board of directors meeting on Dec. 10, during which the board discussed the economic impact that rules and regulations for the cannabis industry can bring to the island.

The question is how cannabis fits into the public sector — local businesses, including hotels and restaurants — and how that will affect Guam’s tourism numbers.

GVB posited that, if allowed, cannabis use in restaurants and hotels would deter visitors and take away $578.8 million from the tourism economy, including family and school trips, especially from places with strict cannabis laws like Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

A number of civic organizations have also expressed that freely available cannabis would be a deterrent to tourism and that the idea was not welcome. The Korean Guam Travel Association wrote to the Cannabis Control Board and said that its organization believed such a move would damage Guam’s tourism.

GVB President Carl T.C. Gutierrez said GVB is making headway with getting residents of Taiwan interested in travelling to Guam again. He said Taiwan has a very low infection and death rate within its population. He also said that, throughout talks with Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero, he estimates tourism to open back up in February 2021.

Vice president Gerald S.A. Perez said beta testing for paperless customs and visitor arrival forms is scheduled for this month.

Perez said that tourism is down anywhere between 61% and 99.9%, depending on the source market.

Perez said he believes, after talks with Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero, that they will be on island by late this month. Milton K. Morinaga, GVB board member and vice president, director and managing director of P.H.R. Ken Micronesia Inc., confirmed 3,900 doses of the vaccine are currently on their way to the island.

             

Legislative updates:

In Washington, D.C.:

  • The National Defense Authorization Act or House Resolution 6395 has passed the House in the U.S. Congress and now goes to the Senate. It contains various allocations for military construction in Guam and the Northern Marianas, as well as language that would ensure continued availability of H-2 workers for Guam, and a public health laboratory for Guam.
  • No firm word on a final U.S. stimulus or pandemic aid package and when that might pass, though expectations are this will be before Congress breaks for Christmas.

In the Northern Mariana Islands:

  • NMI Senate Bill 21-75 would allow the NMI’s attorney general to file liens against gamblers with investments or businesses on U.S. soil. An existing bill already allows the government to claim 10% of any casino debts collected via legal means, but SB 21-75 would boost this share to 15% (plus interest and liquidated damages). 

The new bill would also backdate the period in which debts were incurred to qualify for the NMI collection scheme. The bill would extend this debt period as far back as 2016, since Imperial Pacific International first operated a casino within DFS.

  • The Saipan Chamber of Commerce released a Dec. 7 letter asking Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres to veto HB 21-19 and “encourage your colleagues to cease moving forward with initiatives to raise fees for commerce.”

Introduced by Rep. Leepan T. Guerrero, the bill would raise fees on registration of articles, documents and reports filed with the NMI Department of Commerce, by percentages ranging from 50% to 150%, according to the chamber.

In Guam:

  • Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero signed Executive Order 2020-42 to establish the Guam Abandoned Derelict Vessels Removal Group. According to a Dec. 9 release, there are about 31 vessels that require removal; 14 are considered critical. The members of the Guam ADV Removal Group include Guam Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Statistics and Plans and the Guam Department of Agriculture.

The Guam ADV Removal Group will be required to meet quarterly and in 90 days the group will negotiate with federal partners on a Memorandum of Understanding “to identify, remove and dispose of ADV in outer Apra Harbor, Guam.”

 

Guam Cultural repository breaks ground; target occupancy date pushed back

 The Guam Cultural Repository broke ground on Dec. 9, with Guam and U.S. military officials attending the event. The University of Guam was designated the site of the $12 million Department of Defense-funded repository as part of an Office of Economic Adjustment grant, and will sit on a 10 and a half-acre UOG site and occupy about a quarter of the property, including the 13,230 square foot building.

Aside from holding and studying materials found during military construction, the repository will also have exhibit space.

The target date for the occupancy permit was originally Oct. 5, 2021, according to Journal files but a Dec. 10 release said the target date is now Spring 2022 (See “A home of their own,” in the Aug. 3 issue of the Journal or visit www.mbjguam.com). In August the contractor was still going through the permitting process, according to UOG.

The contractor is Reliable Builders and subcontractors include Guam-based companies such as Kinden Corp., Rocky Mountain Precast LLC, and M80 Systems Inc.

COVID updates:

  • The U.S. Department of Defense announced Dec. 9 in D.C. its plan for distribution of “to administer its initial allocation of 43,875 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to CONUS and OCONUS populations of DoD uniformed service members, both active and Selected Reserve components, including members of the National Guard; dependents; retirees; civilian employees; and select DoD contract personnel … .” Neither Guam nor the NMI were listed among locations.
  • Guam will resume community testing on Dec. 10 through Dec. 12 at three locations, with 300 tests available at each location on Dec. 10, and 200 available at each location on Dec. 11 and Dec. 12.

The island reported Dec. 9 13 new positives out of 627 tests performed.

 

EIDL deadline looms

The Guam office of the U.S. Small Business Administration advised Dec. 9 that the deadline for completing and submitting an initial application for Economic Impact Disaster Loans is Dec. 31.

  • Applications should be completed and submitted on the SBA Disaster website by Dec. 31. For COVID-19 applicants, the form may be found at https://covid19relief.sba.gov/.
  • If an applicant does not have all the tax documents at hand at the time of application, that’s acceptable. As long as the applicant submits the application and the IRS form 4506-T, processing can begin.
  • If document collection will take some time, the applicant can withdraw their application and will then have six months to submit the required information.
  • More information can be found at www.sba.gov/disaster.

 

Saipan Chamber announces nominees for Business Person of the Year

The 2020 Saipan Chamber Business Person of the Year will be announced at the organization’s annual event on Jan. 30.

Nominees are Joseph C. Guerrero, co-owner, Naked Fish Bar & Grill; Josephine DLG. Mesta, director of human resources, Hyatt Regency Saipan; Esther Muna, CEO, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.; and Joshua Wise, general manager and pharmacist, PHI Pharmacy.

Other 2020 awards will go to Small Business of the Year, Start=Up of the Year, Nonprofit of the Year and Saipan Young Professional of the Year.

 

Teleco offers bundling plan

Docomo Pacific Inc. announced Dec. 9 a bundling offering called LINK. “Customers can select the services they want, starting with an internet plan, and add at least one other service,” the company said. The mix and match options program on www.docomopacific.com/link will also calculate an estimated monthly payment and potential savings, Docomo said.