CNMI lawmakers have mixed views about a special resources study to be conducted about declaring Rota a national park.
Members of the National Park Service—led by NPS Pacific West regional office representatives Jean Boscacci and Anna Tamura, and American Memorial Park superintendent Jim Richardson—presented to members of the 20th Legislature on how a national park is made.
Senate vice president Steve K. Mesngon (R-Rota), chairman of the Rota Legislative Delegation, and members Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) and Sen. Teresita A. Santos (R-Rota) were at the forefront in asking clarifications about the presentation.
Mesngon requests constituents on Rota to attend today’s public hearing.
“I would like to inform our people on Rota to come out and express their concerns about this national park issue. We’re the ones who would be affected here and it is important to voice out our concens.”
One of those concerns is the scarcity of land on Rota. “The government should no longer allot additional public lands because of its scarcity. It would become scarce if a national park is established on public land.”
Manglona said he is thankful for NPS’ job in trying to complete the study of Rota’s unique natural and cultural resources. “I commend you for conducting this study with strong interest of getting the public’s input. I look forward to a positive recommendation.”
The Mochong Latte Site, Chugai Pictograph Cave, Bird Sanctuary, and Alaguan Bay Ancient Village prehistoric sites include unique architectural features known in ancient Chamorro culture.
“Our main concern is to be able to put in place flexibility for fishing, hunting, farming, other cultural practices and local land use,” said Manglona.
Santos said she supports a proposed national park on Rota if people favor it. “[NPS] should take into consideration comments made by the [Rota] delegation such as ensuring our medicinal plants, other natural resources, and habitats are not destroyed or restricted from our people.”
She added that compensation should be given if private landowners would be affected by the designation. “And since [NPS] is conducting a feasibility study for this project, it is only fitting that the NPS should also conduct an economic impact.”
“Revenues that could be generated from the park, for instance tourism, vendors, or commercial business. NPS should consider local jobs or training opportunities for our people.”
Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan) wants to know how the designation would benefit the people of Rota and the entire CNMI. “We want to know what the people of Rota think first. Our overall concern is to what benefit these designation would be.”
“The marine monument has resulted in zero benefit for the CNMI,” he added.
Demapan said while it is nice to see NPS representatives doing a study before making a decision, Congress should also have a separate report about the other islands. Congress designates a national park through an act.
“We would love to see Congress have a resource study before military activities in Pagan and Tinian. We just have some concerns on [NPS] designating various parts of the island. What’s going to become of it for Rota and its people?”
He added there are federal regulations that could apply to the mainland but not in the CNMI. “We come from small and fragile community. Sometimes what’s good in the U.S. is not good for us. Some processes focus more on the welfare of animals and plants, rather than the people.”
Rep. Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan) said an area of historic significance or rich in culture are some of the criteria in designating national parks. “It could be significant to the community. What [NPS] mentioned is the former Rota Legislative Delegation requested [Delegate] Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan to have areas on Rota designated as a national park.”
“I know there’s a growing concern from Rota residents right now about some of the regulations. There might be stricter regulations that would affect their ability to farm, hunt, subsistence living, or even doing construction projects, whether small or large scale.”
He added discussion on the issue should be continuous due to the scarcity of land. “Just like [Mesngon] said earlier, there are a lot of issues that needs to be discussed and studied thoroughly.”
Rep. Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said NPS had been assisting in the preservation and protection of the CNMI’s cultural and historical sites through funds given to the Historic Preservation Office.
“Rota is a unique place in the CNMI. Mochon is a whole village of latte sites. What about the ones situated throughout the islands and spread out?”
Designating a national park
Boscacci said they are here just to evaluate the area and study Rota’s natural resources. “It is still up to [the United States] Congress in designating a national park. We’re just going to share how a national park is designated through a special resources study.”
It usually takes the study two to three years before a national park is designated. “We collect background information and conduct multiple interviews with professionals and regular people.”
Richardson said there are many things on Rota that qualify for a national park. “Rota is largely intact and suffered no damage during World War II. It also holds special resources that are not found in any other places in the CNMI.”
Congress establishes a national park through an act based on the study made by NPS. The president would confirm the action by signing the bill into law. The Antiquities Act is an exemption since the president has the power to designate national parks or monuments through an executive order.
The criteria used in designating national parks include areas that are an example of a particular type of resource, possesses exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the natural or cultural themes of the nation’s heritage, superlative opportunities for recreation, for public use and enjoyment, or for scientific study, retains a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource.