BY MARK RABAGO
Saipan Correspondent

(From left) Department of Public Works Highway Division senior engineer Henry Bautista, DPW Secretary James Ada, and Division of Solid Waste director Blas Mafnas are preaching patience in the completion of the solid waste transfer station in Kagman.
Photo by Mark Rabago

KAGMAN, Saipan — The construction of a 6,000-square-meter solid waste transfer station in Kagman may have to wait after two endangered bird species were found nesting in the area along Gap Gap Road where the facility is supposed to rise.

Department of Public Works senior highway engineer Henry Bautista said like the planned As Gonno solid waste transfer station, the architecture and engineering design for the Kagman facility is 100% complete.

“No challenges to the As Gonno facility but Kagman we’ve found two endangered species — red warbler and moorhen — in 2021,” he said.

DPW Secretary James Ada said they’re already in discussion with the Department of Land and Natural Resources to safely remove the nesting birds from the affected area.

The project is staring at a $39,000 bill to the Saipan Upland Mitigation Bank to remove each pair of red warblers and moorhens from the area.

After the endangered species are removed, DPW’s next task is to conduct geo-testing to ascertain what type of foundation is required for the solid waste transfer station in Kagman.

Another issue that stopped the project dead on its tracks is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency putting a hold on the $5 million allotted not only for the Kagman transfer solid waste transfer station, but its twin facility in As Gonno.

DPW Solid Waste Director Blas Mafnas said money is available through Public Law 116-20, or the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019. However, EPA has put a hold on that until the CNMI Comprehensive Plan is completed.

“We can advertise it out but it’s pretty premature at this point because we want to secure the funding first then we can contract it out,” he said.

Then again, the $5-million price tag may not be enough for the Kagman and As Gonna facilities anymore. Ada said, “After inflation the $5-million price tag will go up and we anticipate it to go up … but we do try to maintain cost by doing identical design for both facilities.”

In the end, the increasing cost and delayed groundbreaking may be worth the wait, as the Kagman facility may finally solve the problem of illegal trash dumping in Kagman and the surrounding areas, Mafnas said.

“It’s one of our best solutions to bring trash collection services to Kagman and As Gonno. We also hope to remove and minimize illegal dumping because people will have this facility closer to their community rather than them going to Lower Base or Marpi for that matter.”

Lower Base is the location of the current solid waste transfer station, while Marpi is where the landfill for all of Saipan’s garbage is situated.

Mafnas said the new solid waste transfer stations DPW will be building are green too and in tune with the CNMI government’s Zero Waste and Solid Waste plans.

“Kagman and As Gonno will just be a collection point for garbage as there will be recycling bins for different items and all the municipal waste that must go to the Marpi landfill. It’s actually more of a convenient center for trash,” he said.

Rep. Leila Staffler and Rep. Richard Lizama, whose Precinct 5 jurisdiction Kagman falls under, have welcomed the planned Kagman solid waste transfer station.

The two have also spearheaded trash drop-off drives the past few months to alleviate the illegal dumping of trash in Kagman.

“According to the latest survey, there’s about 5,000 homes in Kagman that would need services like trash collection and that contributes to the amount of trash this village produces,” Staffler said.

She said because there’s a lot of people in Kagman, inevitably there’s more trash produced and the inaccessibility of the Lower Base solid waste transfer station and the Marpi landfill has led some to just throw their household trash on the illegal dump sites in Kagman that has sprouted over the years.

“What we’ve found is if we don’t provide these trash collection drives, people find other ways to get rid of their trash.”

In their latest trash drop-off on April 23, 2,400 lbs of typhoon debris, furniture, metal waste and appliances were collected with the most used dumpster for household trash.

One particular illegal dumping site is the one near the Chacha Oceanview Elementary School. Staffler said illegal dumping there predates Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018 and the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. actually moved the illegal dump site on the other side of the road to fix downed power poles in the area.

“But they left the trash.… It’s still there to this day. You just can’t see it too much because it’s been covered up by vines.”

She also said most residents of Kagman can’t afford the $25 monthly dues commercial trash collection services like Artman and AYD Saipan provide.

Lizama said his office has two trailers they usually lend to their constituents to haul trash to Marpi without any cost to them.

“The people are waiting for this, there is money waiting for the project to proceed,” he said of the Kagman solid waste transfer station.

Modern solid waste transfer stations like the ones envisioned in Kagman and As Gonna can’t come soon enough for a small island like Saipan where there’s a finite space for landfills.

A report from the CNMI Universal Garbage Collection Task Force noted that 30,044 tons of trash were disposed of from Dec. 1, 2020, to Nov. 30, 2021.

Of that, 72% or 21,597 tons came from commercial haulers; 19% or 5,778 tons from the government, and 9% or 2,669 tons from individual homeowners. This does not take into account the trash that is illegally dumped.

The report also broke down the types of garbage that made up the total waste: cardboard and other fiber materials (33.3%), other materials (25.6%), yard waste and organics (16.3%), plastics (16.2%), cans and metal containers (5.6%), and glass (4.9%).

CNMI Universal Garbage Collection Task Force chair Gary Sword said the study shows that 26% of the waste was highly recyclable and another 25% could have been recycled or repurposed.

Sword said some cells at the Marpi landfill are slated to be closed in a few years due to the volumes of trash deposited. The UGC initiative will help keep the landfills useable through the introduction of composting and recycling programs.

“This will be the best, most cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable disposal method for the Marianas. The importance of waste management cannot be underscored enough. Poor waste handling and disposal leads to environmental pollution, encourages the breeding of disease-vector insects, scavengers and rodents, and results in a range of diseases,” he said.

Pauline Arurang said the construction of a solid waste transfer station will be a big relief to her fellow residents in Kagman.

She said illegal dump sites have become a big problem with garbage usually seen in the village’s beaches, specifically at Tank Beach and Laolao Beach.

Due to high gas prices, Arurang said not everyone in Kagman can afford the long drive to Marpi and Lower Base, much less pay for commercial trash collection service.

Ada is appealing for Kagman residents like Arurang to continue to be patient though.

“This has been in the planning stages for the last two years. What’s holding us back is the endangered species. We’re focused on this one and are not skipping through it. Trash is a problem on the island and we really want to mitigate that one with the convenience centers,” he said.

Mafnas encouraged residents to recycle as much as possible while waiting for the completion of the twin solid waste transfer stations in Kagman and As Gonno.

“Try to minimize trash and recycle as much as possible — at least it’s not costing you anything for now. Just please do your part and will take care of managing the waste so we can extend the life of the Marpi landfill.” mbj