The Department of Lands and Natural Resources is starting discussions to place fees on protected marine sanctuaries, which include Bird Island, The Grotto, and Forbidden Island.
According to DLNR Secretary Anthony Benavente, he told the House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) that fees to be placed on the marine sanctuaries of the CNMI are currently being discussed.
This statement followed after the committee unanimously voted to kill Rep. Joseph “Lee Pan” Guerrero’s (R-Saipan) House Bill 20-46, which sought to authorize the Division of Parks and Recreation of DLNR to charge fees for The Grotto with consultation of the Division of Fish and Wildlife.
According to Guerrero, DLNR, Marianas Visitors Authority, and “other respective agencies” are discussing the fees to be charged.
“It was recommended that we [impose] a fee at a higher threshold so we could use the money to enhance the facilities of The Grotto and even the security [of the area] as well,” he said, adding that it was also worth taking note of how many visitors visited the sites as well as utilize the area for marine recreation.
During discussions on H.B. 20-46, it was found out that Section 4 of CNMI Public Law 12-46, or the law that designates Bird Island and Forbidden Island as “sanctuaries for the conservation of wildlife and marine life,” provides that DFW already has the authority to charge an entry fee for the purpose of maintenance, enforcement, research, and improvement of the sanctuaries.
“[P.L. 12-46] has been sitting there for a number of years; there was no intent of moving forward with the implementation [of the fees] until [H.B. 20-46] was introduced,” said author Guerrero, who moved to file the bill in the committee due to redundancy.
Guerrero said once DLNR finishes the regulation, Benavente would be providing the Legislature a copy of the regulation for review and their inputs.
“Once we see that regulation, we would determine how much the fees are proposed to be collected [at the sites],” he said.
According to Benavente, DLNR already has an account established with the Department of Finance for the collection of fees.
“The account is readily available for the implementation of the fees, however DFW director Manny Pangelinan is currently working on the regulations for the fees,” he said in a statement to the Ways and Means Committee.
Benavente assured the members that the fees would only be imposed on tourists, while CNMI residents enter the area free of charge after chair Demapan asked.
Benavente said the DFW and Parks & Rec are currently ruling out the division of the proposed entrance fees.