Friday, June 4, 2021
The Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers supports the establishment of the Infrastructure and Recovery Program (IRP) to capitalize on the over $1 billion in funds for disaster relief and infrastructure projects. These funds will fast-track our economic recovery, mitigate the economic losses caused by the pandemic, and advance the Marianas’ transformation to not only achieve quality, livable communities, but also a world class destination.
The program that Gov. Ralph DLG. Torres and Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios have created would work on accelerating the processes in getting critical projects off the ground and completed. Under existing procurement and permitting procedures, it can take 28 months for a project to get approval to start construction if there are no legal disputes raised along the way. Much of the delays over the past decades can be attributed to disjointed processes within and among the agencies and to conflicting and duplicative procedures. We need a centralized office to focus on these specific projects, coordinate agency work, and resolve conflicting processes. The projects funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery, Office of Insular Affairs, Economic Development Administration grants, and the American Rescue Plan Act must start in a couple of years.
The IRP will employ technical experts – engineers, master and environmental planners, biologists, and an archeologist. Former Department of Public Lands Secretary Marianne Concepcion-Teregeyo was named as the IRP coordinator and she will be supported by three directors who will oversee procurement, permitting, and construction management and engineering. A legal team will ensure that the IRP will expedite contracts without compromising fair procurement processes and protection of our natural resources.
With the IRP taking the lead in the pressing projects, personnel of other government agencies will get the support they need to move forward with critical tasks, while still providing their regular services to the public.
Once the disaster recovery and infrastructure projects are off the ground, they will create jobs for residents and stimulate millions of dollars into our economy. It couldn’t come at a more critical time. As an added benefit, the IRP will also expedite construction and funding for better homes, quality and safer roads, renewed schools, and community and health facilities.
Several states and territories have similar centralized coordination offices for infrastructure and disaster recovery. The North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency to date, has invested more than $3.6 billion to support recovery from four major hurricanes. Meanwhile, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Office of Disaster Recovery serves as the center of coordination for approximately $8 billion in federal funding to support recovery efforts from hurricanes Irma and Maria.
In all of the states and territories where programs similar to the IRP exist, the common ground is centered on the need for coordination, full compliance of regulations, reporting requirements, permitting processes, and meeting project timelines. If these are indicators of successful outcomes in infrastructure and recovery, then the CNMI is on to something good here.
When Typhoon Soudelor hit us in 2015 and left the islands in shambles, we struggled to recover. When we were getting back on track in 2018, Typhoon Yutu struck us even harder. As if the back-to-back disasters weren't enough, the COVID-19 pandemic came and halted our tourism economy. However, we remain resilient and continue to work together to find a way to rise through these challenges. Now, we have the opportunity and resources to rebuild The Marianas for the future. It's time to seize the moment and create a better quality of life for all.
For more information, visit the GCEA on Facebook and Instagram (@cnmigov.economy) or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By MIKE SABLAN
Mike Sablan is the Vice President of Triple J Enterprises, Inc. and chairperson of the Domestic Policy and Recovery Committee of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisers. As an advisory council for Gov. Torres and Lt. Gov. Palacios, the GCEA’s mission is to improve the quality of life in the Marianas for all residents.