May 27, 2009

The Kaselehlie Press

Kitti, Pohnpei - Pacific Landscaping, Engineering and Construction has already begun the construction of additional classrooms at Pohnpei's Nanpei Memorial High School based on the design of Lyon and Associates. The design for the addition was intended to be adaptable for all of the school projects slated for construction in Pohnpei. According to Pohnpei's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) there are problems with the location of the leaching field for the septic system which is intended to be buried beneaththe ball field. All other school construction projects funded in Pohnpei by the U.S. Compact of Free Association Infrastructure funds might also have the same kind of problems. The resolution to the problem at Nanpei Memorial School will be the test case that may determine whether any of the other projects go forward.

In a septic system liquids are channeled into leaching pipes buried underneath the ground. Lyons' design would require the contractor to bury the leaching pipes at least 30 inches under the ground. Leaching pipes have holes in them to allow the liquids to escape into the ground. The solids in a septic system stay in a tank and are required to be pumped out periodically. Lyon's design would require pumping every three years for proper maintenance. Without proper maintenance of the septic system, accumulated solids could cause the tank to overflow but not the leaching pipes.

Lyons conducted a thorough study of the ground's percolation abilities (the ground's ability to dissipate fluids introduced to it). The EPA said that they reviewed the results of that study and found them to be acceptable. But they also said in an April 20 letter to Robert Westerfield, the Contracting Officer for the FSM's Program Management Unit, "This construction scheme is very new to us and therefore presents us with the uncertainty that it will pose no health risk should the project was completed and the field opened again to the general public for activities."

Pohnpei's Governor John Ehsa said that the Lyons design was approved by the Pohnpei Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before construction was contracted out. He said that he didn't understand the technical reasons why EPA had changed their position. He wants to be sure that the problems at Nanpei Memorial School are resolved fully so that other school construction projects in Pohnpei don't encounter the same problems.

The EPA said in their April 20 letter that the board's final decision was that the design is unacceptable and they will not sign off on it.

"It wasn't only us, but the community that didn't agree with the location (of the leaching field)," said Albert Roby, the Executive Officer of Pohnpei's EPA.

On May 6, Jack E. Yakana, the Program Manager of the PMU sent a letter to Pohnpei's Governor John Ehsa saying, "in the absence of some other resolution, the PMU will have no alternative other than to stop work on the project and terminate the contract for construction of the Nanpei Memorial School classroom addition. Because construction has already started, sizable termination costs will be incurred all of which will be charged to Compact funds allocated to Pohnpei State."

Governor Ehsa characterized the letter as a "bad letter" saying that it wasn't appropriate for a National Government employee to send a letter to a Head of State telling him that he would unilaterally stop construction of a project in his State without offering alternative solutions to the problems. Governor Ehsa met with President Mori on the 8th of May and asked for two weeks to work out the problems with EPA.

EPA's Roby seemed confused about the problems of the ball field as a leaching field when he talked in a phone interview about the weight of accumulated people and heavy equipment in the area on top of a leaching field. He said that though leaching fields are common in the yards of many people in Pohnpei the accumulated weight of gathered people on a ball field might pose a problem.

His April 20 letter didn't mention that factor but it did mention that the EPA and Public Health is currently conducting a joint effort to visit the schools to help raise awareness of how a Hepatitis A outbreak can be avoided. It said that the EPA wants also to avoid any possibility of another Cholera outbreak such as occurred in Pohnpei in 2000. He said, "Should the contents of the leaching field get into contact with somebody during recreation, then it will pose a health risk."

Roby said that on Monday, May 18 the EPA had submitted a new plan to Pohnpei State Government for a leaching field that would not require it to be located underneath the ball field for the school. He said that he didn't know the details about whether or not new land for a leaching field would need to be acquired but that he felt that the situation had been resolved through the introduction of an alternative treatment solution.

Governor Ehsa said that he had spoken with the contractors and was told that they could continue to work for two months before they have to deal with the problem of the septic system.

PMU needs an assurance that a solution can be found before proceeding with any more of the work. "We're just not going to build a school without bathrooms," said Westerfield.