CNMI Senate Vice President Opposes National Park For Rota

Mesngon: Designation 'will not benefit the island's people'

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 22, 2017) – Senate Vice President Steve Mesngon is against the federal designation of a national park on Rota, saying it will not benefit the island’s people.

On Tuesday, in the CNMI House chamber, U.S. National Park Service representatives made a presentation about the study they’re conducting.

Jim Richardson, superintendent of American Memorial Park, Anna Tamura, landscape architect, and Jean Boscacci, planner and project manager, also conducted a public hearing on Saipan at American Memorial Park on Tuesday evening, and they will conduct another hearing on Rota today, Wednesday, at 6 p.m.

They are seeking public feedback on their study that will determine whether Rota is to be designated as a site for a possible national park.

On Tuesday, Mesngon said the proposal will only hurt the people of Rota and not help them.

He said previous federal regulations continue to prevent the people of Rota from developing their own land, or fish and hunt as such activities may affect endangered species.

“Here we are designating public land so our people can farm, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife comes in and tells our people that they can’t develop their lands because it will impact an endangered species, the Mariana Crow. Then last year the feds again identified some 15 or 16 plantations as habitat for endangered species. And now for a third time, they come in to establish a national park.”

Mesngon said he wants to know “where they are going to put our people if they condemn the place? Rota is just a small island, the population is not that big, so what will the impact be of this federal park on our people? They are saying there will be economic benefits, but I don’t think so. What I want them to do is give funding to our Historic Preservation Office on Rota and develop the place more. But prohibiting our people from hunting, farming, fishing and getting natural medicines for traditional healers — that’s not a good idea.”

He said he is urging the people of Rota to “come out and let their voices be heard. I urge our farmers, hunters and fishermen to speak up and let the feds hear their concerns. This is our land, this is our livelihood that we are talking about here, our natural resources. Before they think of establishing a park on Rota, they should put infrastructure first to improve our airport and seaport. There’s no way that a tourism attraction can succeed with our current situation when there are no regular or direct flights to Rota.”

Mesngon’s concerns were echoed by Rep. Joseph Leepan Guerrero, Rep. Angel Demapan, Rep. Ivan Blanco, Senate President Arnold Palacios and Sen. Justo Quitugua.

Blanco said more discussion is needed as there are growing concerns among the people of Rota who feel that federal regulations are just too much for them.

Demapan in an interview said: “It’s good that they are here conducting public hearings, but my concern is, how will our people, particularly the people of Rota, benefit from it. We also want to know what the people of Rota think of this project. It’s nice to see that the U.S. Congress asked for a study before they make a move. It sounds nice, but again how will it affect the people of Rota?”

Rota Sens. Terry Santos and Paul Manglona said they support the designation of a national park on their island — if the people support it too.

Santos said the National Park Service should also take into consideration the other lawmakers’ concerns such as “ensuring that our medicinal plants, other natural resources and habitats are not destroyed or new restrictions are imposed on our people.”

She said if private lands are to be affected, “just compensation should be made to the affected private landowners.”

She added, “And since the National Park Service is conducting a feasibility study on Rota for this project, it is only fitting that the NPS should also focus on the revenue that could be generated from the park and opportunities for local jobs and training for our people.”

Senator Manglona, for his part, said:

“We thank the National Park Service for their hard work in trying to complete the study of the unique natural and cultural resources of Rota. I commend them also for their strong interest in getting the public’s input. I look forward to a positive recommendation from NPS. The Mochong Latte Site, Chugai Pictograph Cave, the Bird Sanctuary, and other cultural resources will be evaluated. Our main concern, on the other side of the coin, is to be able to put in place a management agreement flexibility for fishing, hunting, farming, other cultural practices and local land use.”

Jean Boscacci, the planner and project manager of the study, said they will consider all of the lawmakers’ concern.

“We don’t have a proposal at this time. We are just conducting a study. When we have the findings we will send them to the secretary of the Interior and that goes on to the Congress to determine whether there should be a national park. So we have to evaluate whether there are resources and areas on Rota that could qualify for the national park system,” she said.

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