This October, Typhoon Bolaven passed through the Northern Mariana Islands, leaving some damage but many more close calls in its wake. The storm proved the commonwealth’s resilience to natural disasters but also raised questions about grants and infrastructure spending that have created controversy this past year.

Of the three largest islands in the Northern Marianas, Rota, Tinian, and Saipan, the storm passed closest to Rota. There, the storm caused power outages, paused water services, and loosened debris. However, those services were quickly restored, and a team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) visited Rota to discuss upgrades to the power grid to make it more robust in the face of future storms. Governor Arnold Palacios (I) ultimately praised both the territorial and federal responses to the storm, saying it demonstrated the commonwealth’s resilience.

But the typhoon also reopened discussions and controversy over the Building Optimism, Opportunities, and Stability Together, or BOOST program. BOOST was a system of grants to financially aid small businesses and individuals under the term of Ralph Torres (R), the previous Northern Mariana Islands governor. When Governor Palacios was inaugurated, one of his first acts was to terminate the BOOST program. Even after the system’s end, however, it was plagued by lawsuits, accusations of unfair grant approval, and legislative investigations. Now, after the property damage caused by the typhoon, some complained that the destruction could have been mitigated by a more robust grant program. The owners of the boat The Jambalaya, a charter ferry and cultural icon in the commonwealth, said they had applied for a BOOST grant earlier this year to renovate their boat. They had hoped a BOOST grant would allow them to repair and renovate, but their application stalled, and The Jambalaya was destroyed in the typhoon. A more streamlined and generous grants system, they groused, would have prevented the destruction.

Ultimately, the damage from Typhoon Bolaven was minimal and transient, and the response from both the Northern Mariana Islands and FEMA was swift and effective. However, the political questions left in the wake of the storm will persist for far longer and spark debates over the role of the government in providing pre-emptive relief for storms in the future.