OIA, EPA Convene Meeting on Island Infrastructure Issues
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WASHINGTON, D.C. The Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs hosted five federal agencies on Thursday to discuss options to help U.S. insular areas fund an estimated $800 million in needed improvements to their water, wastewater and solid waste systems. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior David B. Cohen and EPA Pacific Islands Office Manager John McCarroll called the group together under the auspices of the Interagency Group on Insular Areas (IGIA).
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Resident Representative Pedro A. Tenorio was also on hand to address the IGIA participants. Congress has requested the IGIA to advise the Secretary of the Interior in the preparation of a plan to implement infrastructure projects that are necessary, according to a report completed by the Army Corps of Engineers, for the CNMI to provide its residents with clean drinking water on a 24-hour, seven-day basis. The plan is due by the end of July 2005.
Also included in the panel of participants were representatives from the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Army Corps of Engineers and financial consultants from Northbridge Environmental Company. Also participating via phone linkups were Don Smith and Felix Sablan from the CNMI Water Task Force.
In his opening comments, Cohen said that the meeting was "part of a very important effort to find solutions to the critical environmental infrastructure needs of all the insular areas." His comments were echoed by Tenorio, who called the meeting "historic" and vital to solving "the Commonwealth's very, very old water problems which have gone on for over 60 years, since the end of World War II."
Cohen and McCarroll both noted that Saipan is the only American community that lacks water suitable for drinking on a reliable daily basis.
The group will submit recommendations at the next IGIA plenary session, scheduled for March 1, 2005 in Washington, D.C. Cohen said that in the current fiscal environment, it was important to find ways for territories to finance their infrastructure needs without significant new infusions of Federal money. Among the options being considered is a territorial bond bank, which would allow the territories to pool their projects together and borrow at a lower cost.
The IGIA was created under the authority of an Executive Order issued by President Bush in May 2003.