The Grotto Vehicle Gate and Bollards design plan has been finalized.
The planning process spanned just over four months to ensure compliance with Federal Highway Administration regulations and tourist operator certification, said Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Anthony Benavente.
In November last year, DLNR along with the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality and the Marianas Visitors Authority, initiated plans to mitigate tourist impact and improve the management of the Grotto.
“Over the course of the last four months, we’ve been strengthening our tour operator certification and collecting data from our community. We are very cognizant of the safety concerns that have been raised and are pleased that we will begin construction of the Grotto entrance gate soon,” Benavente said. “We are only pending clearance from the Historic Preservation Office so we hope to start construction within two weeks. As we complete the drafting of regulations to mitigate ongoing safety challenges and health concerns faced by the influx of visitors to the Grotto, MVA and our department will prepare the issuance of written guidelines to tour and marine sports operators.”
MVA managing director Christopher A. Concepcion noted that tour operations have improved and operators are more equipped with the laws and history of the Commonwealth.
“The planning process involved many key stakeholders and we are pleased that we are able to strike a balance between safety and environmental concerns. Our tour operator certification program has proved to be successful with the collaboration of the Northern Marianas College and we will be able to sustain this moving forward for other critical tourist sites throughout the Commonwealth,” Concepcion said.
Reiterating previous discussions on the environmental impact and concerns about enforcement, BECQ’s Eliceo Cabrera said that tourist operator outreach is ongoing and will continue for the majority of tourist sites.
According to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, the finalization of the Grotto gate design is a culmination of collaboration across departments and was comprised of joint enforcement meetings to further finalize rules and regulations governing tour operations, customer conduct, and ticketing.
“With tourism as our major industry, protecting our valuable resources consists of long-term planning. While our intention is to better manage tourist operations and minimize the impact of the use of Grotto, we also want to ensure that the design of the gate minimizes any environmental impact and is compliant with FHA regulations. With this in mind, the signage and fencing that is included in the design will also serve as erosion control in the proposed project site and allow for efficient inspection and thoroughfare,” Torres said.
Since March 2, the DLNR has stationed an enforcement officer from the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the Grotto from 8am to 5pm everday to provide assistance to MVA’s G4S security and lifeguard. (PR)