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Kilili adds $9M for Saipan sewer to House disaster bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan has added $8.8 million for Marianas’ sewer system repairs with a floor amendment to the most recent disaster appropriation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill, H.R. 2157, is based on H.R. 268, which passed the House in January to help areas hit by typhoons, hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters during 2018. The new bill adds aid for areas struck by disaster in 2019 and gave Sablan an opportunity to increase funding for Super Typhoon Yutu recovery.

Sablan based his successful amendment on updated recovery estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. “We set aside $10.4 million in H.R. 268 for water and sewer recovery for areas impact by Super Typhoon Yutu,” Sablan explained during the floor debate on his amendment. “But, as happens in recovery situations, preliminary estimates were not completely accurate. When debris is removed, unseen damage is revealed.

“In March, after the House passed H.R. 268, EPA revised its estimate of the cost for repairing sewer systems in the Marianas. But H.R. 2157, the bill now under consideration, has not taken that new, March estimate from EPA into account.”

Sablan’s amendment passed 268-143. It puts the total for Marianas water and sewer repairs in the new bill at $19.2 million, more in line with EPA’s estimates. All “no” votes came from Republicans.

EPA reported the money is needed to upgrade the Agingan and Sadog Tasi Wastewater Treatment Plants because of damage inflicted by Super Typhoon Yutu. Sablan’s amendment will also help pay for lift stations and for backup generators that were damaged by flooding and high winds during the storm.

Both the Agingan and Sadog Tasi plants suffered “catastrophic failure” even before Super Typhoon Yutu, according to CUC, and may not yet be back in full operation. Fortunately, Section 502 of H.R. 2157 allows for infrastructure to be rebuilt to industry standards, not just pre-storm condition, as is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s normal rule.

Sablan requested the authority to rebuild to industry standards in his initial letter to appropriators in November in which he laid out the need for typhoon recovery aid for the Marianas. The Section 502 exception applies specifically to the Mangkhut and Yutu disasters.