Saturday, September 14, 2013

Advisory council urged to make visitors center a reality

The Marianas Trench Monument Advisory Council finally adopted its long-awaited bylaws in governing the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument yesterday, even as concerned citizens and even a member of the council urged it to make the promised visitors center a reality.

Department of Land Natural Resources Secretary Arnold Palacios said that since the Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council and the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library hosted a forum on the monument, he has received a number of comments criticizing the council for the lack of updates on the visitors center.

Palacios, along with Ben Sablan and Frank Rabauliman, make up the CNMI’s representatives on the council.

Palacios said there’s been a lot of backlash from the community on the slow pace of economic benefits the federal government promised when former President George W. Bush declared the Marianas Trench part of its Blue Legacy.

“There’s been a lot of promises made to the community but so far we’re not able to pull it off…We should do it and, if not, let’s just fold camp and go home,” he said.

NOAA deputy regional administrator Lisa Croft shared Palacios’ sentiments, saying the council should now work together to make sure that the commitments made by the federal government is followed.

She also acknowledged that a lot of promises and commitments made by the federal government have been broken.

The council held its second meeting yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Saipan and among those who attended were Sablan, Rabauliman, Palacios, Department of Defense representative Roy Tsutsui, and representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and other local and federal agencies.

In the comments portion of the meeting, former representative Rosemond Santos described the designation of the monument in 2011 as “modern day colonialism.”

She said the local community, especially the indigenous people of the CNMI, were not consulted when President Bush placed under federal protection 95,216 square miles of submerged lands and waters in various places in the Mariana archipelago as part of his Blue Legacy.

Cultural historian Genevieve Cabrera, meanwhile, urged the federal government to talk to the community instead of making decisions and policies behind their backs.

“If you show respect then respect will be shown back to you,” she said.

Another former lawmaker, William Torres, also told the council to consider the Northern Marianas College as the location of the monument visitors center.

Attaching the visitors center to the local community college would allow it to apply for federal grants and these will be a much-needed financial boost to NMC, he said.

The CNMI Legislature came out with a joint resolution in April, urging the council to designate Marpi as the site of the visitors center because of its easy access to tourists and residents alike.

Recently, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) made known his preference for the visitors center to be on Rota, to make the island the ecotourism hub of the Commonwealth.

Architect Herman Cabrera just finished a study that plans to use the old Japanese lighthouse on Navy Hill as the site of the visitors center.

Published in the Saipan Tribune

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Obama Set to Punch Donut Holes in Bush's Legacy

The United States House of Representatives today passed a bill conferring submerged lands to the Commonwealth and delaying two year's worth of increases in the federal minimum wage.  S.256 passed 415-0.  The bill previously passed the U.S. Senate and now heads to President Barack Obama's desk.

This law, once signed and enacted, opens the most biological diverse region of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument to commercial fishing until such time that the Commonwealth government extends the constitutional protections for the islands to the newly conferred territorial seas.

Government leaders who have called for co-management now have to show they were serious by implementing legislation to protect this important area.  There is nothing to co-manage until such time the area is protected.

The Friends of the Monument called on Delegate Kilili to include co-management language in his bill; the call went unheeded.

Territorial sea bill passes House, now goes to President for signature

Washington, D.C. – A bill conveying ownership of the seabed around each of the Northern Mariana Islands to the Commonwealth government passed the U.S. House of Representatives today by a vote of 415 - 0. The Northern Marianas is the only U.S. coastal state or territory that does not have ownership of these offshore lands, which can be leased for economic activities and managed to preserve environmental resources. S.256 passed the Senate by unanimous consent on August 1, so the bill now goes to the President for signature and enactment into law.

Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (MP-00)
423 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

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Friday, September 6, 2013

A visitors’ center worthy of the marine monument

As one of the framers of our Constitution, my father knew the value of our natural resources to our culture and argued for permanent protections for MaƱagaha, and the three northernmost islands of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracas. He taught me that it is the responsibility of every indigenous person to ensure that these islands are passed down to the next generation in the same condition in which they were passed down to us.

That’s why I worked so hard alongside The Friends of the Monument and The Pew Charitable Trusts to help create the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

It is an indisputable fact that the people of the Northern Marianas support environmental protection and it is no wonder that there was such a tidal wave of support for the creation of the Marianas Trench Monument.

When the monument was declared on Jan. 6, 2009, then governor Benigno R. Fitial, then Senate president Pete P. Reyes, and then House speaker Arnold Palacios led in celebration 6,000 local residents, 500 students, and 206 businesses. As I recall, Governor Fitial was so elated he hugged President George W. Bush right after the signing.

In a letter to the editor, former representative Cinta M. Kaipat wrote that the goals of the monument were to “create federally funded local jobs, give a needed boost to our struggling tourism industry, bring positive worldwide attention to our shores, and most importantly, protect three of our islands and their surrounding waters for generations to come.” (Saipan Tribune, May 1, 2008)

Much has been accomplished toward achieving these goals. In the last five years there has been positive media attention for the islands, renewed interest in scientific exploration of the area, and a federally funded office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opened in Garapan. But work still needs to be done. Everyone must come together to move ahead with creating the visitor center and bringing to fruition the economic promise of this impressive marine reserve.

In 2009, the same year the monument was declared, Delegate Gregorio Sablan earmarked $220,000 in the fiscal year 2010 Consolidated Appropriation Act (HR 3288) for the design of our visitor center. It was a proud moment. Our first representative in the U.S. Congress passed one of his first bills.

The Friends and Pew worked with the delegate’s office and with NOAA, the recipient of the funding, to draft a grant to the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources to “develop a process for engaging input from the public to create a visitor and education center that will incorporate our existing marine protected areas and the new Marianas Trench National Monument.” (Delegate Sablan, letter to DLNR Secretary Ignacio Dela Cruz, Dec. 30, 2009)

The plan was to develop an architectural blueprint so that Delegate Sablan, along with the Friends and Pew, could ask Congress to fund the construction. Although progress stalled at the local level, today we have a new governor, a new DLNR secretary, and from what I understand from media reports, soon we’ll have a new architectural plan for a monument visitor center. This is excellent news, and everyone who had a hand in its completion deserves congratulations.

Soon it will be time to take the plan to Washington, and I know the Friends, Pew and our elected officials will do all they can to help. But there is no guarantee that federal funding will be available. In the meantime, the Friends continue to work with the community on outreach and education. Pew has supported these efforts and continues to engage with CNMI leaders at the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures, Micronesian Chief Executive Summit, and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

The people of the Northern Mariana Islands should be proud of what we have accomplished. From the Micronesia Challenge, to the Marianas Trench Monument, and most recently our leadership in global shark conservation, the world is taking notice. Let’s welcome them with a visitor center worthy of these efforts.

Angelo Villagomez is with The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Marianas Trench Monument Advisory Council Meeting Sept. 12 at Hyatt Regency Saipan

The Marianas Trench Monument Advisory Council (MTMAC) is holding a meeting to provide advice and recommendations on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (Monument).

The meeting will be held on September 12, from 8:30am to 4pm at the Hyatt Regency Saipan, Chamolinian Conference Room.

The public is invited to attend the meeting and will have an opportunity to comment from 4pm to 5pm.

Members of the MTMAC and agency representatives from NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be available to answer questions and provide additional information on the planning process for the Monument.