Interior, Other Federal Agencies Agree to Review Typhoon Infrastructure Priorities for Guam, CNMI
(WASHINGTON, D.C. - April 24, 2003) Ten Federal agencies agreed today to explore ways to work together to help Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) harden their infrastructure so that they will be better able to survive the next major typhoon. At a meeting hosted by the Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs, Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, David Fukutomi of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several Federal officials discussed infrastructure needs in Guam and the CNMI in the aftermath of two devastating super-typhoons in a five-month period.
"After watching FEMA have to replace power line poles in July and then have to replace those same poles again five months later, it makes sense to explore infrastructure hardening investments that can help people during the next storm and save the Federal government money," said David Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs. "FEMA has done a tremendous job helping Guam and Rota recover and rebuild after Super-Typhoon Chata'an and Super-Typhoon Pongsona. FEMA's main statutory duty, however, is to restore infrastructure to the same condition it was in before the disaster. It has only limited authority to fund improvements that will enable communities to better withstand future disasters. That's why we wanted to bring together all of the Federal agencies, the local governments and private sector to see if we could work together to help the islands harden their infrastructure."
Among the Federal officials in attendance were the Department of Agriculture's Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, Hilda Gay Legg, the Department of Energy's Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Douglas Faulkner, the Small Business Administration's Associate Administrator for Disaster Assistance Herbert Mitchell, the Acting Director of the Department of Transportation's Office of Emergency Transportation, Janet Benini, as well as representatives from the Navy, the Departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Cohen praised Bordallo for attending the meeting. "She painted a very vivid picture of what it was like to live through Super-Typhoon Pongsona and its aftermath. Congresswoman Bordallo and others from Guam, including [Special Advisor for Economic Policy] Ramona Jones, helped the people in Washington to really understand how difficult the recovery effort has been for Guam and the CNMI."
Cohen also praised Fukutomi, who has served as Federal Coordinating Officer on the Super-Typhoon Pongsona recovery effort, for organizing a similar effort on Guam. "David organized the Federal representatives on Guam to get them working together on the rebuilding effort," said Cohen. "Independently, we had approached FEMA in D.C. about getting all of the Federal agencies to cooperate on this. The Guam group has the detailed knowledge of what the needs are on the ground, and the D.C. group will hopefully be able to make the policy commitments necessary to address those needs. We intend to have good coordination between the people in the islands and the people in D.C."
Cohen cautioned that the interagency group may not result in increased resources for the region. "This may not make more Federal resources available for infrastructure hardening, but it will hopefully allow the resources that are available to be allocated more efficiently and effectively," said Cohen.
Other Office of Insular Affairs officials with ties to the Western Pacific helped to organize the meeting. In addition to Jones, Guam desk officer and former Guam resident Keith Parsky helped to organize the meeting, as did Julie Flores, a Guam native who is currently on assignment at the Office of Insular Affairs. The meeting was also attended by Nikolao Pula, director of the Office of Insular Affairs, and Roger Stillwell, the office's CNMI desk officer who was also a long-time staffer for the late Congressman Antonio B. Won Pat.