The congressional delegation that plans to visit the Northern Marianas in two weeks has included Rota on its itinerary during the delegation’s scheduled two-day trip next week. This marks the first time that a U.S. congressional delegation will visit Rota.
The group’s visit is connected to the proposal to extend the National Park System to the Commonwealth’s southernmost island.
Rota is the third largest island in the CNMI and is just over 70 kilometers away from the U.S. territory of Guam, which is also part of the Marianas Islands chain.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) made the trip possible after requesting delegation head Rep. Rob Bishop (R-1st Utah), who is also the U.S. House of Representatives’ Natural Resources Committee chairman, to visit the CNMI.
Sablan, Bishop, and six other members of the group will be arriving on Saipan on Feb. 22 and would make a stopover on Tinian before heading to Rota the following day.
A Rota National Park Service team would give delegation members an update on the planned park system. They would also hold public meetings as part of their feasibility study of establishing an NPS unit on Rota.
The NPS extension would protect areas that are recognized to be of national importance like the I’Chenchon Bird Sanctuary, Monchong Latte Village, and the Taga Latte Quarry.
It was Sablan who introduced the bill to create a three-year study for the inclusion of Rota in the National Park System. Sablan included the authorization for the study’s funding in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 and in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016.
“But the [NPS] idea really began with then-Rota Legislative Delegation leader senator Diego Songao in 2004. [Then]-Rota Rep. Teresita Santos also helped with convincing testimony to Congress in 2010,” said Sablan, “as did former Rota Mayor Melchor A. Mendiola and Sen. Paul A. Manglona.
“Study recommendations will go to the Natural Resources Committee, which is responsible for decisions about our national parks,” Sablan said.
The congressional delegation’s trip is also made possible by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, with the administration saying they also want the group to see first-hand the CNMI’s economic changes and assess its labor and immigration issues.
The administration, Sablan, and the business sector have been pushing for issues and other concerns that were submitted in the 902 report, especially the expected economic impact of the CNMI-Only Transitional Nonimmigrant Visa program, which expires in 2019.