Guam gets PCOR 3 and further openings; governor plans to use any future funding for small businesses among other groups
Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero signed the Executive Order for PCOR 3 today – the afternoon of Feb. 19, which will allow among its provisions for 75% occupancy of retail businesses and resumption of non-contact athletics from Feb. 22, though there will be limitations on spectators. Additionally, the governor addressed the eviction moratorium. “We are moving to lift the locally imposed rent moratorium in phases so that landlords affected can begin their recovery.” From March 1, landlords will be required to give 30 days-notice to tenants. The governor urged tenants to discuss payment plans with landlords.

Bars and taverns will open at 50% occupancy on Feb. 24, the delay allowing for the Department of Public Health and Social Services to review and approve regulations, to include whether service will be at tables, or also bar-side, according to DPHSS Director Arthur San Agustin.

As to any future moves, Leon Guerrero said coming considerations would be “modification of the quarantine protocol.” That would happen for all visitors to include returning residents. “They would be required a PCR negative test,” she said. Without that the governor said, “We would get them tested.” Quarantine could be reduced to seven days, she said. Senior centers would also be allowed to open, she said.

Assuming that the next COVID recovery bill passes Congress, she said the “financial assistance would greatly help our economy.” Her fiscal team are already looking at ways to use funding – an estimated $661 million for Guam – for “lost revenue recovery.” The governor said there would be aid for “small businesses, individuals and non-profits.” She would again look to the Guam Economic Development Authority to disperse funds, she told the Journal.

The governor was adamant she will not sign Bill 36-11, which would make Emergency Orders subject to review by the Guam Legislature, even with the latest amendment of monthly review after the first 90 days. “This is a very dangerous piece of legislation,” she said. As to future emergency orders she said she could continue to sign them. “I will continue doing it as long as I think it’s necessary. … To get these financial aids, we have to be a declared public emergency,” Leon Guerrero said.

She was more guarded when it came to whether she would sign other bills – to include delaying the increase in minimum wage – and said she would review bills as they reached her desk, and in their final version.  On the minimum wage bill delaying the increase for six months, she said. “I’m weighing all the considerations.” Though she was following amendments, she said, “I have not really seen it; I’d like to see its final version.”

Regarding future vaccination groups, San Agustin told the Journal that 87% of the hospital days were in the 40-plus age group. However, he said that particular age group was also about 30,000 people. It might be divided further, he said, possibly into groups of five years. He also said specific groups of workers might be considered.

Leaving no doubt of intentions, the governor said residents should take care to observe COVID requirements and guidelines. “If we were ever to surge like we did in August that would require quick action, and a return to PCOR 1.”

 

NMI identifies Saipan roads for highway improvement; full one-way system coming for Garapan (and more NMI news)
The Northern Mariana Islands announced Feb.18 further details on road improvements that it plans to start this year.

The projected timeline for completion of the various projects is expected within 12-24 months upon issuance of the notice. The NMI received $40.5 million in federal funding for the improvements.

They are:

  • Beach Road (Route 33): the 2.06 miles between As Perdido Road in Chalan Piao to the Atkins Kroll intersection in Oleai. “The most notable features include sidewalks and bike lanes for pedestrians and cyclists between Chalan Piao and Oleai, especially within the commercial area of Chalan Kanoa and Susupe,” the release said.

The Beach Road repairs will have priority, according to Lorraine Villagomez, highway administrator for the NMI Department of Public Works, who told the Journal the groundbreaking is planned for June or July.

  • Chalan Kalabera, also known as Windward Road (Route 36): approximately a mile of all-weather roadway between Kingfisher Golf Course and the Bird Island Lookout on the northeastern coast of Saipan. The improvements include … two bridges at the Unai Fanhang and Unai Nanasu crossings that will connect the San Juan Road to Talofofo Road.

Residents will be able to use this road to get to Bird Island, rather than driving to Marpi, the release said.

  • Tun Herman Pan Road, also known as Airport Road (Route 35): the project extends from the intersection of Chalan Monsignor Guerrero (Route 31) to the intersection of Flame Tree Road (Route 304). The project involves re-construction of the existing roadway and upgraded pavement.

In other news on this tourism district, installation of signs for directional changes to introduce a one-way system for the whole of Garapan will begin Feb. 22.

Funding comes from $11.2 million the NMI received from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The Garapan Revitalization Task Force worked on the plan with government agencies. Some fire lanes will be removed to allow for more street parking, according to a Feb. 18 release, as well as “bring a sense of order” to the system. 

At a Feb. 19 news conference, Gov. Ralph LDG. Torres said that during the lack of tourism, “We are maximizing the opportunity and will start cleaning more.” He also told the Journal that in Garapan, “Traffic’s not going to stop. … I believe this is the best approach for all our businesses.”

Torres also spoke about incoming funds and their uses at the news conference. The Northern Mariana Islands expects $550 million in additional COVID relief funding from the act making its way through Congress. “That will allow us to revitalize our economy and bring back our employees,” he said. 

The $3 million the Northern Marianas Technical Institute will receive “to build up the work force to fill the gaps” is also being supported by $500,000 from NMI funding. Torres said although he is not sure when the NMTI will open, it had submitted a transition report and the incoming board had met.   

After consultation with the attorney general, a memo was sent to NMI government employees Feb. 18 requiring mandatory vaccination, except for those receiving religious or medical exemptions. Department heads are to report progress. The mandate applies to employees of the executive branch, including semi-autonomous agencies and entities. Agencies including the Commonwealth Ports Authority and the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. are “encouraged to respond likewise” according to a Feb. 19 release from the Office of the Governor.

The CNMI Cannabis Commission has $21,500 in cannabis application fees, leading to planning for farms and stores, as well as offering employment opportunities. Torres told the Journal, “I am pleased with how they handled the applications.” The commission worked with all applicants, he said. “There’s a lot of benefits to it,” he said of the cannabis industry. He also spoke with the NMI Department of Public Safety “to make sure those regulations are followed,” he said. However, Torres said, DPS is “not out there to find little things to penalize you about.” The board of the commission is also “looking at what pace should we go … and what pace we should set.”

In general, the governor said (as the NMI awaits economic revival), “This is the best time to revamp permitting and procurement.”

Map of Garapan one way system.

Saipan has seen long lines for tickets for food distribution this week, funded by a $201,400 U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs grant. “I hope that we can get additional funding,” the governor said.

Lt. Governor Arnold I. Palacios said at the news conference that the governor’s Council of Economic Advisors was working on economic revitalization as in “what, when and how we are going to reset. There are some major plans for Korea, Japan – to a large extent and even China,” he said. “We are looking at a potential travel bubble with Korea and some Korean companies,” he said. Much would depend on requirements for tourists when they return home, Palacios said.

Palacios also said the upgrade of tourism sites was essential. “It’s a long time coming that we make these improvements. For 30 sites, the NMI has 41 private partners.

Torres said of tourism revitalization efforts, “Obviously our target is an Asian market.” He told the Journal, “We’re going to have some communication with Taiwan and Vietnam. They’ve been monitoring our progress with this pandemic.”

Esther Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Healthcare Center, said uptake of vaccinations by manamko of 55-plus years has not been high. “We have a survey that will come out to get what is the reason for your hesitancy,” she said. That could possibly be the time vaccination takes. “We’re trying to speed it up so it’s a faster process,” she said. The NMI will also be introducing vaccination for those with underlying health conditions, she said. People should contact their health providers for scheduling, she said.

 

RFPs for university construction on the way
The University of Guam will issue Requests for Proposal soon for two new structures, it told the Journal.

Following an $8.6 million U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant, according to a Feb. 17 release, UOG will move forward with

  • an additional two-story, 12,540-square-foot facility to be connected to the existing School of Health building to house four classrooms and a 2,500-square-foot laboratory, and
  • a new three-story, 12,000-square-foot building — to be built on Dean’s Circle, opposite the English Language Institute for UOG’s Water and Environmental Research Institute of the Western Pacific.

 

Additional GEDA rent relief coming
The Guam Economic Development Authority’s Feb. 18 board of directors meeting brought good news for some island businesses with the announcement that the “likelihood of receiving [money for the rental relief grant] is imminent,” according to Melanie Mendiola, GEDA’s CEO and administrator. The $1.7 million needed for the last of the applicants will come from new CARES Act funding, providing rental relief to 292 applicants.

“It looks like we will receive the money very soon, and we will distribute it out to those who are waiting,” Mendiola said. See the Journal of Feb. 1 on www.mbjguam.com for a list of those companies that applied for rent relief.

During the meeting, directors also discussed various subjects including, how the construction industry can help the economy moving forward and other sources of income for the administration.

 

US DOL fines Guam companies for overtime infringements and secures back pay; ship fined for discharge
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division determined Konstrak Builders of Dededo – which provides maintenance and repair services to Mobil gas stations on Guam – intentionally violated the Fair Labor Standards Act when it continued to pay straight-time wages to 23 workers for overtime hours they worked. Konstrak will pay $51,481 in back overtime wages and $10,000 in penalties. The FLSA requires overtime at time and one-half employees’ regular rates of pay for hours they work beyond 40 in a workweek. The employer also failed to keep accurate payroll records, as required, according to a Feb. 19 release.

Modern Konstrak – also of Dededo – also violated the FLSA in September.

 The division also recovered $202,390 in unpaid overtime wages that Asian Construction Development Corp. owed to 43 employees from the Philippines. Investigators found that the general contractor employer failed to pay the workers overtime when they worked more than 40 hours in a workweek. The division also assessed the employer $29,971 in civil money penalties for the willful nature of the violations found, according to a Feb. 17 release from U.S. DOL.

In other regulatory news, Pacific International Lines (Pte.) Ltd. was sentenced in Guam for discharge of oil into Apra Harbor and failure to maintain discharge records, according to a U.S. Department of Justice release.

PIL pleaded guilty to five felony violations of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships for failing to accurately maintain the Kota Harum’s oil record book, and one felony violation of the Clean Water Act for knowingly discharging oil into a water of the United States in a quantity that may be harmful, and will pay  $3 million and serve a four-year term of probation, during which all vessels operated by the company and calling on U.S. ports will be required to implement a robust Environmental Compliance Plan. Staff were also censured, according to the release.

 

Third group of apprentices graduate from GCC
Cabras Marine Corp. is gaining 18 apprentices who graduated Feb. 19 from a Guam Community College Boot Camp, the third so far. During the four-month pre-apprenticeship program, the participants were trained in carpentry, plumbing and welding as well as other skills. A truck driving boot cam is ongoing, and GCC is accepting applications for a third Construction Trades Boot Camp, according to a Feb. 19 release.

 

Guam’s GDP for 2019 released
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs released Guam’s GDP for 2019, which is estimated to have risen 2% over 2018. Guam’s GDP for 2018 was $5.92 billion.

“… the increase in real GDP reflected increases in exports, private fixed investment, federal government spending, and consumer spending. These increases were partly offset by an increase in imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, and a decline in territorial government spending,” a Feb. 17 release from the Bureau of Economic Analysis said.  Further details can be found at https://www.bea.gov/news/2021/gross-domestic-product-guam-2019. mbj