NMI eyes COVID situation in Guam and mainland, but is surge ready

Warren Villagomez, chairman of the Northern Mariana Islands COVID taskforce said the COVID situation is now of concern. “We continue to monitor our borders … as well as the seaports in all three islands,” he said. “We are watching and monitoring Guam and the mainland on a daily basis.” Villagomez told the Journal, that “we have daily conversations” with the U.S. Department of Health, the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As to any incursion of COVID into the NMI, he said, “Our site is prepared and ready to take on a surge,” he said at a Sept. 3 news conference.

Tracy Norita, director of the division of Revenue and Taxation of the NMI, said about 2,500 people had registered for the Advance Child Tax Credit at the division’s online portal, out of an expected 7,000. The division had already started mailing out about $882,000 in payments.

Vicky Benavente, director of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Labor, said that while the construction industry and retails offered opportunities to NMI residents, jobs in hotels and transportation had declined and the employment situation would continue to be “really, really hard” when Pandemic Unemployment Assistance finished until tourist traffic returned. “It really depends what happens in our destination markets,” she told the Journal at a Sept. 9 news conference. Benavente said DOL was discussing the situation with the U.S. government. “We are trying to work something out with our federal partners,” she said, but declined to say more.

David DLG Atalig, the NMI director of finance said the $19.6 million grant the NMI will receive for its Economic Resilience Center will allow it to build a 36,000 square foot “state of the art facility” on Capitol Hill (next to the softball field) with about $13 million to $14 million of the grant, that will house the Department of Finance and an IT infrastructure that will be typhoon resilient. The grant will allow the NMI’s plans to reach the goal of updating the government’s IT infrastructure, more quickly, he said.


Yet more MilCon awarded

The joint venture of Core Tech-HDCC-Kajima LLC, Tamuning, Guam, was awarded a firm-fixed-price task order of $13.95 million through a multiple award construction contract (or MACC) for the construction of a reinforced concrete blast structure over an existing fuel manifold at Joint Region Marianas. Work is expected to be completed by September 2023. The work to be performed alsooprovides for the demolition and removal of the current intermediate subterranean valve vault that houses existing petroleum oil lubricant pipelines and the construction of a new hardened concrete building structure and hose connection vault at the Tiyan Junction Valve Vault facility. Three proposals were received for the task order, which was awarded by Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Pacific.

In other MilCon news, Black Construction/MACE International JV, ECC Diego Garcia LLC, JSK Diego Services LLC, MVL-Bromgrove JV LLC, and Parsons Colas UKP JV were awarded Sept. 3 a combined $249,000,000 indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity, multiple award, design-build/design-bid-build construction contract for construction projects at U.S. Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia.

The work includes office renovation, building demolition, built-in equipment repair/replacement, piping repair/replacement, pipe lagging, electrical work, mechanical work, road pavement, fencing, roofing, painting, site work, removal and disposal of lead based paint and asbestos containing material, welding and masonry.

Black Construction/MACE was awarded an initial task order of $4. 02 million. The remaining four contractors are each being awarded a $100,000 task order to satisfy the guaranteed minimum. The contract has an expected completion date of September 2026, according to the Department of Defense release. The award was made by Naval Facilities Engineering and Systems Command Far East.


U.S. DOI names DAS, other appointees


Keone Nakoa, the former D.C. bureau chief for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has been named deputy assistant secretary for insular and international affairs. He previously was an associate with Adams Miyashiro & Krek in Honolulu, and formerly was campaign manager for Democratic Colleen Hanabusa’s run for the Hawaii governorship. Nakoa also served as a judicial clerk, in the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection and as a speechwriter during his career.

He holds a 2008 bachelor’s in biological anthropology from Harvard University, a 2015 master’s in business administration from the Shidler School of Business at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a 2015 juris doctorate from the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Other appointees named in a Sept. 3 release include Jordan Chatman, senior advance representative; Sarah Greenberger, associate deputy secretary; and Rebecca Kasper, advisor in the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs.


Civic orgs clarify statement suggesting business reduction

On Sept. 1 a statement was sent to members by the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association, the Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the Guam Chamber of Commerce, as well as posted on social media.

“For the protection of all, the Guam Chamber of Commerce, the Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association strongly urge establishments, across all business sectors, to take the necessary precautions recommended by Guam’s medical professionals to keep customers and the community safe,” the statement said.

The message went on ask businesses to “consider” suggestions, which included reducing occupancy levels, for example to “50 percent for all businesses,” maintaining health and safety protocols and encouraging employees and customers to be vaccinated.

The statement drew adverse reactions from some Journal readers, largely due to the call for potential reduction of business.

The Guam Women’s Chamber issued a further statement to the Journal on Sept. 2, explaining its intent.

“The Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce supports the joint memorandum released yesterday.

“However, we would like to reiterate that our joint statement is meant to encourage businesses to act, and by no means a suggestion to the governor of Guam to reduce occupancy levels to 50%. We recognize that businesses have safety precautions in place that would make a reduction in occupancy unnecessary.

“We are simply reminding the community to remain proactive and continue to take precautionary measures to prevent further restrictions or lockdown in the future.

Let’s move forward, and continue our progress.”

The Guam Chamber sent the Sept. 1 outreach to its membership with a cover letter from President Catherine S. Castro that qualified the message.

“We know that our businesses are doing the best you can with your resources in following CDC sanitation protocols to keep employees and customers as safe as possible at storefronts and workspaces. We support businesses evaluating their unique circumstances and making decisions on implementing additional precautions appropriate for your company. We laud all these efforts,” the Guam Chamber letter said.

The letter also told members, “Just like you, we have monitored the number of positive Covid-19 results rise over the past month. We have seen that the additional EO and DPHSS mandates have placed further strain on our business operations, but you continue to be flexible and make the decisions needed to keep your services available to our local residents.”

Mary P. Rhodes, president of GHRA told the paper, “The intent of the member notice was to ask businesses to continue doing their part in ensuring a safe and healthy environment for employees and their customers. The organizations were recommending this across all sectors and not just the businesses that were under the covered establishments because the six-foot social distancing was reinstated in addition to wearing a mask, washing hands and sanitizing.

“Many businesses didn’t know the six-foot social distancing mandate was reinstated with EO 2021-21 as a revision because it wasn’t stated in 2021-19 or 2021-20. By reinstating the six-foot social distancing mandate, some businesses are already reducing their occupancy,” Rhodes said.

GHRA is surveying members to see how the mandate of enforcing customers are vaccinated is affecting businesses.


DOJ takes GovGuam Retirement Fund to court for USERRA infraction

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Sept. 1 it filed suit against the Territory of Guam and the Government of Guam Retirement Fund, alleging defendants violated the Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 when they refused to properly provide pension credits to service members who used leave from the Government of Guam’s leave-sharing program while on active military duty. Therefore the Government of Guam and the retirement fund shorted the retirement benefits and pension annuities of at least five service members and potentially many more, the DOJ said.

USERRA is a federal statute that protects the civilian employment rights of non-career individuals who serve in the armed forces. “Among its protections, USERRA requires employers to treat an employee’s time in military service as service with the employer when determining pension benefits,” the release said. The complaint was filed in the District Court of Guam.


Unemployment at 11.4% for Guam

Guam’s unemployment rate for June 2021 stands at 11.4%, or a total of 8,150 persons unemployed. The number of persons “Not in the Labor Force” increased from 47,140 in March to 52,650 in June. The female adult population saw the biggest change in unemployment from March to June with a decrease of 7.8%. The difference in the adult male population was a decrease of 6.6%. The number of persons working full time decreased by 5% since the March survey from 55,230 to 52,330, a difference of 2,900 persons. Part-time workers increased from March to June by 1,940 persons. The March survey reported 8,800 part-time workers while the June survey reported 10,740.

The data shows a decline from December 2020 when the unemployment rate was 19.4%, or 13,850 persons completely unemployed. The March 2021 figure was 16.5%, or 12,660 persons completely unemployed, showing a correlation between easing of restrictions and employment opportunities in Guam. For more information, visit www.bls.guam.gov


And also …

The US Geological Survey upgraded the Aviation Color Code/Volcano Alert Level for Pagan Volcano to ORANGE/WATCH according to a Sept. 2 release, following the observation of low-level emissions from the volcano for most of Sept. 1, 2021. After a brief pause in the emissions, a continuous low-level gas and ash plume extending 350 nautical miles from Pagan Volcano was observed.

Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres told the Journal on Sept. 3 that there were currently two residents on Pagan, who had asked not to be evacuated.

Dr. Nathaniel Berg, medical director and CEO of Guam Radiology Consultants; has been named chairman of the Guam Physicians Advisory Group. Berg is also the chairman of the Guam Board of Medical Examiners. 

Parents and guardians who had to take unpaid leave to care for children due to school closure by Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero’s executive order may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, according to Sept. 2 release from the Guam Department of Labor.

A record number of interns comprised of 19 university students and two Guam Department of Education high school student summer interns joined the Guam Power Authority’s 2021 Summer Engineering & Cybersecurity Internship programs. GPA has previously referred to its aging employee population, and reiterated in a Sept. 2 release that “a substantial number” of employees are due for retirement in the next five to 10 years. mbj