Compromise on marine monument plan
Despite its tentative nature, recent reports of Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and legislative leaders being more open to the idea of a national marine monument in the northernmost islands of the Marianas chain is welcome news, at least in so far as advancing the dialog on the issue is concerned.
Dialog, after all, is what should have been happening in the first place. The proposal was intended to draw people to the table so everyone can weigh the relevant issues and make decisions based on the merits of the plan. Instead, the issue has created battlegrounds, pitting people against one another and escalating the whole subject into epic proportions on the scale of a Mahabharata battle between the forces of good and evil.
Worse, people have been content to play along as two-dimensional caricatures of themselves, painting each other in the most unflattering of lights and refusing to listen to each other in the belief that they alone are right, or taking umbrage at imagined slights to their inalienable rights. Lost in all the noise, confusion, and animosity was the ability to imagine that there might be a third or a fourth alternative, a common ground where people can come together in the name of conservation and national patrimony.
The suggestion by White House Council on Environmental Quality chief James Connaughton that further talks about the monument plan may result in an agreement to restore the CNMI’s control over "submerged lands" is the cold dash of water needed to snap everyone out of their hysteria and restore some semblance of calm, and the local leadership’s statement about being more receptive to the monument proposal is exactly what everyone needs to hear.
A compromise on the matter is being offered and this time, it must be evaluated with a level head. The submerged lands issue is no small potatoes and for the CNMI to regain what has been stripped from it would be a great boon to the Commonwealth, not just economically but also historically. The loss of the submerged lands was never imagined nor contemplated by our Covenant negotiators and the fact that we lost our right to those resources because of the Covenant was a bitter pill to swallow. Regaining the submerged lands now would remedy this unintended consequence.
At the same time, it would allow the Commonwealth to explore all potential economic benefits these underwater resources may have-natural riches that are currently off limits to the CNMI because they do not belong to our exclusive economic zone. If we regain the right to manage these resources, this will have a more direct-and immediate-impact on the local economy since they are closer to the populated islands and not located hundreds of miles away where the only visitors are illegal fishermen from other countries. (Saipan Tribune)