MELEKEOK, Palau – Deputy Assistant Secretary David Cohen, representing Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, today joined Republic of Palau President Tommy Remengesau and federal officials to formally turn over a $150 million, U.S.-funded road that will spur economic development on Palau’s largest island.
“I wish to extend to President Remengesau and all Palauans the best wishes of the people of the United States on this momentous occasion,” Cohen said in reading a statement from Secretary Kempthorne. “We are pleased to be able to celebrate with the people of Palau the completion of this major development project on beautiful Babeldaob.”
“This road symbolizes our special and unique relationship through the Compact of Free Association and the desire that we, the American people, have for the success and progress of the people of Palau,” said Cohen, who oversees insular affairs for Interior.
Noting that Secretary Kempthorne had the privilege of riding on the road with President Remengesau during a June 2007 visit to Palau, Cohen also expressed the Secretary’s appreciation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies that have collaborated with Interior on this project for more than a decade.
Other federal representatives at the event included Tom Bussanich, Budget Director for Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs; Mark Bezner, Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy in Palau; Brigadier General John W. Peabody, Commander, Corps of Engineers, Pacific Ocean Division; Lt. Col. Charles H. Klinge, Commander, Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District; and Rear Admiral William D. French, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Marianas and U.S. Pacific Command defense representative to Palau. The ribbon-cutting ceremony coincided with Palau’s 13th Annual Independence Day celebration.
The 53-mile road, which circles Babeldaob, was built to help foster Palau’s economic development by opening Palau’s largest but sparsely populated island to residential and commercial development. Babeldaob accounts for almost 80 percent of Palau’s land area, or about 153 of Palau’s total 189 square miles of land. The road, which provides access to Palau’s recently completed capitol at Melekeok and links with roads to Palau’s air and seaports, is 24-feet wide with asphalt-concrete surface and shoulders, and includes two causeways, seven bridges, 372 culverts, and 20 box culverts.
The road was constructed under the terms of Palau’s Compact of Free Association with the United States (Public Law 99-658). The Department of the Interior contracted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to plan, design, and manage construction of the road.
Daewoo Engineering and Construction, a South Korean company, built the road, which was a major engineering challenge because of Palau’s often heavy tropical rainfall, abundant streams and rivers and thick vegetation. Adding to the challenge were more than 5,000 pieces of ordnance from World War II fighting between U.S. and Japanese forces that had to be removed from the path of the road.
Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serve and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure compliance with all U.S. environmental laws. The road meets U.S. Department of Transportation standards.
The Palau archipelago, located about 700 miles southwest of Guam and 500 miles east of the Philippines, has more than 300 islands of which 9 are inhabited. Palau is one of three freely associated states allied with the United States through Compacts of Free Association. Prior to becoming sovereign, these islands were part of the U.S.-administered U.N. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
The Secretary of the Interior is responsible for generally administering U.S. financial assistance under the Compacts to the freely associated states, namely the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The United States is also responsible for the defense of the freely associated states and can deny other foreign powers military access to the islands and their waters.
In addition to financial assistance, the United States also provides several domestic programs to the freely associated states. Citizens of the freely associated states may migrate to the United States without a visa and live and work there indefinitely. Many also serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.
More information on Palau and the Office of Insular Affairs is online at www.doi.gov/oia