OUTER COVE MARINA CLOSURE
With the decision of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources to shutter the commercial use of the Outer Cove Marina starting last Sept. 30, members of the Saipan Marine Sports & Tourism Association worry about the fate of their businesses and the closure’s effect on the tourism industry.
DLNR cited safety reasons for shutting down the Outer Cove Marina to commercial use and has offered the use of a transient floating dock in the adjacent Smiling Cove Marina as an alternative. The use of the transient dock will be regulated to accommodate commercial use.
In a letter by the Marine Sports Association, the group said they fully understand that funds are needed to rehabilitate Outer Cove but the government should pursue a fairer and more appropriate step.
“This matter is not simple and not easy to those who depend on the [Outer Cove]. This is very serious, and people worry about business continuity.” the letter stated.
The group accused DLNR of “not recogniz[ing] the seriousness [of the matter].”
The letter also talked about the barricade at the entrance of the Outer Cove Marina, saying they do not understand why it was done, since the Outer Cove is not only for tourists, but is also used by local people for fishing, and even by big buses needing to make a U-turn.
In a previous Saipan Tribune story, DLNR Secretary Anthony Benavente clarified that the department cannot prevent the public from using the Outer Cove Marina if they want to do so, and that what DLNR would be doing is to prevent any tourist commercial activities in the area.
$3 tourist loading fee
In a meeting with the boat operators last Tuesday by the Division of Fish and Wildlife at their office, DFW director Manny M. Pangelinan discussed the collection of a $3 loading fee per passenger for users of the transient loading dock.
“We have to stop the use of the Outer [Cove] Marina for people to use because it is unsafe,” Pangelinan said, adding that the Smiling Cove Marina is one of the docks that fill up for the need for a docking area.
“However, the [the Smiling] Cove Marina needs to also have its own funding source. There is no money for the maintenance of that dock. The government does not have that money. How do we get the money? We get it from the user to contribute to the restoration and maintenance of this dock.”
There is a 10-day grace period for the collection of the $3 per passenger fee. Come Oct. 11, operators who would not pay won’t be able to load on the transient dock.
The transient dock will be used by commercial boaters that load commercial passengers like those going to Managaha Island, involved in scuba diving, trolling, or other type of marine activities.
The loading scheme would have the boat operators providing a wristband for each passenger, as a way to monitor the number of passengers being loaded using the dock.
The Marine Sports Association, in their letter, expressed concern over how the scheme will be operated consistently.
“To do that, the boat owner or manager [needs to] go to the Treasury office, pay for the wrist band (in advance), bring the receipt to the Fish and Wildlife office, get the wrist band, and then put [the wrist band on] their customer’s wrist when [getting] on the boat,” the letter stated.
The group also raised concerns that price-sensitive tour agencies and tourists would prefer to use other docks, which would lead to a decrease in their clientele, which would lead to “serious financial difficulties and eventual bankruptcy” that could lead to the firing many employees.
As the most affected in the closure of the Outer Cove Marina, the Marine Sports Association recommends that, instead of the fees, an environmental tax could be collected per tourist at the exit of the airport parking lot or an adjustment to the environmental taxes on the Managaha Island should be made.
In their letter, the group also said that they “don’t know what is going to happen in the future, but we hope everyone finds a way [for] a win-win [situation].”
Pangelinan said that the $3 rate/passenger for docking will be monitored for a month, and will then be assessed for possible adjustments.
“Right now, we have a rate for docking for a month. Users of the dock will be charged a minimum of $3 per passenger. But we are going to evaluate all these things to see whether we can make adjustments, because this is the first time that we’re going to be doing this,” Pangelinan clarified.
Pangelinan also said that with the fee, the boat operators are going to start taking ownership of the marina.
“When they have a part on the stake, then they become stakeholders of the marina, and that’s another good thing,” he said. “Every one of us needs to look at it and make adjustment so that it benefits both the program and the commercial boaters who are using the facility.”