By the end of January, boats without power/engines will be removed from the Outer Cove Marina. By the following month, on Feb. 27, boats without berthing permits will also be removed.
That has prompted some complaints from boat owners, particularly with the berthing permit they need to apply for and the three-month security deposit they need to pay. In an email message to Saipan Tribune, one boat owner appealed to the Department of Lands and Natural Resources for “reasonable regulations.”
“The viewpoint of helpless boat owners [is that] their policy is inconsistent. If they [are] asking [for a] reasonable requirement, boat owners may try follow it. But they don’t. Especially this time, [the] tour market [is] going to shrink, so we need more reasonable regulations,” the email reads.
The boat owner also complained about loading fee that DLNR is charging boat owners at the Smiling Cove Marina, pointing out that there are no loading fees at the Submarine Dock (Tasi Pier in Tanapag) and at the Garapan Fishing Base, and that they only need to pay $1 per tourist at Charlie Dock (Commonwealth Ports Authority).
DLNR Secretary Anthony Benavente explained that the collection of the fees is based on regulations that have been in place since 1999, which DLNR is required to enforce. That regulation only put on hold in 2015, in the aftermath of Typhoon Soudelor, he said. At that time, engineers of the Department of Public Works already deemed the Outer Cove Marina unsafe.
“The [Office of the] Attorney General and the [Office of the] Public Auditor have been bombarding our office, saying [we] have an obligation to do, the responsibility of complying [with] the law, the regulation, which I have to do,” Benavente said.
He added that both the attorney general and the public auditor want commercial activities out of Outer Cove since it is unsafe, yet boat owners still want to continue and stay.
“We can’t say, ‘You can just stay,’ and nothing happens. You have to also pay for it,” Benavente said. “They [boat operators] say the structures are unsafe. The structure is unsafe and [yet] everyday, you’re still [doing] sunset cruise, boat tours to Managaha on a daily basis, and you are making money every day and nothing for the government. This is not right.”
As for the fees, boat owners would have to pay a monthly Vessels Berthing Fee that range from $5 to $20 per foot, depending on the length of the boat; a $4 per passenger boarding fee; and a security deposit the cost of a three-month berthing fee.
“We’re just telling these people that the purpose of this is because of your commercial activity. So you have to pay these fees, the birthing, the security deposit, because you’ve been there.”
DLNR would not retroactively collect the fees from 2015 but would start from this period.
“We’re not dealing with what the past is. We want to go forward and effectively start this on the new fiscal year, which is Oct. 1, 2019. …We would implement this regulation and move forward from whatever the past is,” the secretary added.
With the DLNR obligated to comply with the regulations, the boat owners are also expected to follow suit.
“Considering that obligation, I have to follow this regulation, at all means, to ensure that this is complied [with],” Benavente said. “If they don’t want to follow, and they feel that it’s not right, then [the vessels] have to leave the Outer Cove.”
“We’re enforcing the regulation. We want them to know that we will abide with this regulation, if they don’t comply, they have to move out of there. Our responsibility is to [ensure] safety to our tourists, and we feel that we need to bring them to another location where they can load and offload the tourists, the customers.”
In October last year, the transient dock at the Smiling Cove Marina has been used to safely load and unload passengers going to Managaha, in lieu of the Outer Cove Marina. The secretary clarified that the money that is being collected is separate from the general fund and will be deposited into an account for the Outer Cove.
Based on estimates by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it would take more than $16 million to fix the Outer Cover Marina.
DLNR said that they have come into an agreement that if the boat owners want to stay at the Outer Cove Marina, then they have to abide with the regulations even if it’s still an unsafe structure.