Speaking of Zaldy Dandan, here is a fellow that contributes some of the most rational, effective and helpful bits to the local political and cultural conversation via his weekly op-ed columns. A recent piece he printed about the need for open-mindedness struck me as a valuable addition to that conversation. The Saipan Tribune’s own Jayvee Vallejera could do a similar excellent job of editorializing but abstains from the practice. A good public conversation is essential for a constitutional republic like ours to thrive. (No, Bertram, we are not a “democracy”). We are fortunate to have enough concerned citizens to stimulate this conversation and expose weaknesses and bolster up strengths of our very own political experiment here in the Northern Marianas Islands. Kudos to all who speak out, even the “cyber rats” (credit to Mr. Stanley Torres) and the “usual suspects” who contribute to the boiling pot to help make it soup instead of dishwater. Those who put their name on those comments deserve more credit, but even those who hide behind an alias contribute. It is just harder to evaluate how trustworthy the alias comments are since they lack provenance.
You can start or continue contributing by responding directly to this op-ed or any other story in the Saipan Tribune online. There is a blog response open to you under a bunch of pictures after each article. Feel free to comment at www.saipantribune.com or you can email me.
Outer Cove follow up
We learn from CNMI Fish and Wildlife’s director Manny Pangelinan, who is quoted as saying, “Since the imposition of docking and passenger fees on commercial boat operators in October, the operation of Smiling Cove Marina has been running smoothly.” As well it should, considering the operation to tax tourists and boat operators is running at about 15% to 20% efficiency. According to Pangelinan, only some 200 passengers per day are lining up at the inner cove out of 1,200 or so going to Managaha. The rest are loading at other docks and beaches. Some of those are paying but many are not. Imagine the pandemonium, Manny, if you were processing another 1,000 pax per day at the Inner Cove. It would be a cluster bump.
Visitor access to Managaha runs very high, 80% to 90% of all visitors show up at Managaha to see our No. 1 draw sometime during their stay. With total visitor arrivals at current levels, that equates to about 1,200 average per day, according to exit polls. CPA keeps track of those who pay them at the arrival dock on Managaha. Say 700 average per day. The other 500 are going in and out of Managaha without landing at the pier. That 500 per day are being snuck in and out by their tour guides and probably don’t even know it. There are a lot of beaches on and anchorages near the island. Some transfer from water sport to water sport elsewhere in the lagoon and come by via beach Managaha later.
Perhaps a more important question that Mr. Pangelinan could answer would be, “What is happening at the Outer Cove Marina as you scoop up some of the cash generated by your money-making scheme to get the December payment to buy that transient dock from the feds?” Here is a partial answer from one of the small boat owners with a boat currently docked at the Outer Cove: He said, “The latest demands from DLNR/F&W for Outer Cove with threats of eviction if we don’t pay three months security deposit plus three months’ rent based on marina rent amounts that the government came up with in 1999 when the marina was brand new and had power, water etc.[rates range from $5.00/foot for a 20-footer to $20/foot for a 65-footer – BB] We also would have to pay loading fees of $4 per person if and when we repair the dock and then are allowed to load there. All at our own expenses.”
Remember, reader, it is just as hard for the little guy with one small boat to come up with hundreds or a couple of thousand as it is for the big operator to come up with tens of thousands in extorted funds to pay off DLNR so they can buy a new toy.
Here is what another boat owner told me: He wrote, “DLNR has come up with a program to charge the hell out of us for docking our boats in Outer Cove and for us to accept all the liability and do the repairs to the marina docks at our own expense. They are trying to force us into signing leases, which they call permits, where we will be required to pay rent by the foot size of our boat from $5 to $20 per foot per month, pay back rent from Oct 1, 2019, to now, and put down a three-month security deposit. Big money. If we don’t agree we can leave the marina. If and when we can load passengers the fee will be $4 each person in Outer Cove. [A check in Guam finds the commercial rate for Agat and Agana marinas are only a max of $9/ft and include power, water, and full facilities.—doesn’t sound like a fair or reasonable price to me—BB].
So what about it, director? Does that sound like a fair deal to you?
I was pleased to see the other day in the Saipan Tribune that Imperial Pacific had completed and put into service some of its fancy villas beachside at their new resort in Garapan. That is an important addition to Saipan’s inventory of tourism attractions. I’m looking forward to see them open up the rest of those villas and hope they can find enough people in the labor pool to complete them soon.
Why would it be important for Saipan to have true 5-star world- class accommodations when you or I couldn’t afford to stay there if our lives depended on it? Because the VIPs who do stay there are the backbone of all casino operations all over the world. Only the biggest of the whales are given those luxurious villa suites and often for “free” by putting up enough money at the VIP cage to show they have the means and the intent to gamble large sums.
I say it is the mainstay of casinos because the vast majority of money that rolls in to casinos comes from. I used to think that all the flashing lights and bonging noises and the many, many gaming tables and slot machines and roulette wheels out in those huge main gaming lobbies was where the money came from to build that 20-story casino resort in the first place. Wrong. That part of a casino is called “the show” and is the “comfort food” of the casino industry. Think out the scale of it for a moment and you’ll see what I mean. It takes thousands of guys like you or me betting our hamburger money to equal just one guy betting half a million per hand.
Anyway, those guys that are courted and comped (given freebies) are given the finest accommodations and pretty much whatever luxuries they want in order to get them to and keep them at those high-stakes VIP tables. You and I don’t usually see guys like that. They gamble in ultra-fancy private VIP rooms or at exclusive high-stakes baccarat tables or even sometimes the house brings the dealer and the game to the VIP.
Once the hotel portion of that property opens up, Saipan will have something that we have never had, true 5-star accommodations. That will spur other hoteliers to up their game and build competitive facilities instead of just putting another coat of paint on the same 40-year-old hotel and calling it good. Villas are the start of a win-win situation for Saipan and for CNMI tourism. Question is, will USCIS, DHS, and USCBP allow enough construction laborers here to complete this project and the five other ongoing but not complete big scale developments on Saipan right now? Or will they keep strangling the CNMI by strangling our labor supply? Fly on the wall.
Thanks for reading Sour Grapes!
“Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.”
—Attributed to Benjamin Franklin