‘This is a land taking’

Many oppose NPS Rota National Park

Many of those who spoke at yesterday’s virtual public meeting by the U.S. National Park Service opposed the findings and recommendations of the Rota Special Resource Study to include some Rota sites in the national park system, describing it as a naked land grab.

One of the meeting’s speakers, Catherine Flores McCallum, said she believes that if NPS is going to come in, they’re taking land on Rota. “First of all, this is a land taking,” she said. “It’s an outright land taking. Our lives matter. Get off my land. I’ve been saying that for years. I don’t want to see my children have to fight for their land.”

McCallum said she’s already 65 years old now and that she’s been protecting CNMI lands since she was in her 20’s and that she’s tired. “I’m getting really tired but I don’t want to see my children have to fight for their land, because this is an outright unjust taking of our property. This whole thing boils down to the militarization of our whole island of the Marianas,” she said.

A former police officer, Joel Charfauros said he noticed in one of the slides in the NPS presentation of the study that indicates that 52% of the limestone forests would cover the island of Rota. Charfauros asked how NPS would deal with this with land owners who have property within 52% of the limestone forests.

National Park Service project manager Jonathan Gervais, who led the discussion and presented the preliminary findings of the Rota Special Resource Study, explained that NPS developed three alternative concepts for these sites: Option 1 is to continue the current management by the Commonwealth and Rota municipal government agencies; while Options 2 and 3 are for the CNMI and the Rota municipal governments to enter into a management agreement with NPS for a Chamorro National Historical Park (about 526 hectares), or for a Chamorro, limestone forest, and World War II sites National Historic Park (about 1,780 hectares).

All lands would remain in Commonwealth ownership consistent with Article 12.

Gervais said the total amount of limestone forests and archeological sites on Rota covers almost 11,000 acres but “we’re not proposing 52%. That’s too much.”

He said and that, in one proposal, they’re proposing just 4,400 acres and the other alternative is just 1,300 acres. He pointed out that their biggest proposal covers about 4,400 acres. The number 52%, he explained, was meant to signify the full amount of limestone forests on the island.

Gervais said they tried to concentrate on public lands and did their best to identify areas that are public lands. “There are some areas that are a little tricky on Rota in terms of what’s public and what’s private,” he said.

Gervais said they were required by law to do this study. He said the law told them to look at the prehistoric, historic sites, and the limestone forests.

War in the Pacific and National Historical Park and American Memorial Park superintendent Barbara Alberti said that yesterday’s meeting had a great turnout. She thanked Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig and Mayor’s Office public information officer Ivan Mereb for setting up the location at a social hall on Rota, where people came in and voiced their concerns.

“I really think that this conversation has opened up a lot of good questions and ideas that the National Park Service will take into consideration. It’s been interesting to hear the viewpoints,” she said.

Alberti echoed Crispin Ogo in stating that the best way to get people’s voices heard is to write comments. She also encouraged the people to work with Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) on legislation.

“We will try to capture as many of the comments and questions from the chat, but also we’ve been recording this so that we can capture comments as best as we can, for what people said, but still providing them in writing is even much better,” she added.

The next meeting will be tomorrow, Saturday.

Justin Manglona, a former Rota casino commissioner, cited two private lands where latte stones are located. Manglona asked if NPS is going to pay the landowners based on the appraised value or they just going to take it without paying.

He said when the U.S. military wanted the 83-hectare Farallon de Medinilla for target practice, and they paid 2 cents per square meter of the island, or $20,600 for 100 years. “That’s the price of Farallon de Medinilla,” he said.

Manglona said he is wondering how much the family on Rota who owns that private property is going to get. “The going rate for a beachfront property, in my opinion, is at least $250 per square meter. I don’t want a repeat of 2 cents per square meter,” he said

Manglona said there are five areas that NPS designated that they want to manage and control. “So I wonder how much you are going to lease it from the CNMI government? If you are not going to lease it, are you…just going to provide some kind of assistance to manage the area?” he said.

Since NPS’ options 2 and 3 mean that NPS will be in control, Manglona said he prefers option 1, which is basically says, “Leave us alone.”

“We’re doing okay. We don’t need any more feds’ interference in our area,” Manglona said.

Estanislao Taisakan said that securing 10,000 hectares or acres of land is too much, that this will impact their traditional practices such as accessing fishing ground to the bay and other areas.

“How can they perpetuate the practice of fishing and hunting and taking medicines in the area?” he asked.

Taisakan said he supports the No. 1 option. “We’re not moving anywhere,” he said.

Taisakan said the CNMI has to find a way where they can turn these natural resources into tourism.

Thomas Songsong said he has not heard of any support at the meeting so he will be the “Lone Ranger and support the establishment of a national park on Rota. He pointed out that Rota has been trying to improve these parks for many years, but has no financial capacity to do it.

“We’ve created overlooks in the savanna overlooking the Marianas Trench, overlooking Guam. We built it. But we can’t go back and maintain it because we lack funds,” he said.

Songsong said this national park opens up opportunities for Rota and the CNMI. It’s not just the influx of tourists, he said, but there’s also entrepreneurial and job opportunities.

Sablan earlier stated that over 200 people took part in the initial public meetings when the park study began in 2017. With these meetings, Sablan said the public has an opportunity to look at specific proposals and decide how the CNMI can best preserve ancient ancestral Chamorro sites for future generations.

The delegate said Rota’s limestone forests will make a unique and excellent addition to the 57 existing national parks in the nation.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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