Former CNMI Zoning board director Bruce Bateman is taking issue with how the CNMI Division of Fish and Wildlife is routing passengers through the Smiling Cove Marina on their way to Managaha Island, saying that tourists are being taken down to the boats “like cattle.”
Speaking at yesterday’s meeting of the Marianas Visitors Authority board, Bateman urged the board to look into the matter, especially with tourists being made to line up under the hot sun.
Bateman said he was at the Smiling Cove Marina last Friday when the Department of Lands and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife started implementing a new regulation to collect a $3 per passenger loading fee at the Smiling Cove Marina from each tourist going to Managaha. He described the fee as a scheme to extort money from tourists and boat operators.
He said he saw over a hundred tourists that were lined up “under the hot sun being taken like cattle down to the boats.”
“I’m not exaggerating,” Bateman told the MVA board.
Saipan Tribune tried but failed to obtain comments from either DLNR or Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Saipan Tribune, however, learned from some marine sports operators yesterday that DLNR may end up only with one boat operator using the Smiling Cove Marina.
Operators, who asked that they not be identified, disclosed that they, instead, use the commercial ports and pay the Commonwealth Ports Authority at only $1 per customer.
Other operators are also using the Fishing Base in Garapan to avoid the $3 per passenger loading fee.
At the MVA board meeting, Bateman said the new regulation to charge each passenger $3 subject marine sports operators to a double tax.
He urged the MVA board to discuss the matter with DLNR Secretary Anthony Benavente at the Governor’s Office. This prompted MVA board chair Marian Aldan-Pierce to ask acting MVA managing director Judy C. Torres to make an appointment with Benavente to discuss the issue.
DLNR said the money collected through the passenger fee will be used to maintain and operate the transient dock within the Smiling Cove Marina, which is being used to load and unload passengers going to and from Managaha, instead of the Outer Cove Marina, which has been closed after being deemed unsafe for public use.
In an interview, Bateman said he was at the Smiling Cove Marina last Friday when DLNR began the process of charging $3 per tourist who wants to enjoy water sports activities and the island’s number one attraction—Managaha Island.
“They are being rudely treated. The vehicles that bring them there have no place to park. The parking lot is reserved for Fish and Wildlife personnel,” he said.
Bateman said many of those engaged in marine sports activities will be forced out of business because they are being double-charged and their customers are being harassed.
Bateman said he is simply putting an exclamation point on what MVA directors already know.
He said he is trying to persuade MVA directors to do whatever they can to try to get DFW and DLNR toreconsider their position. “If they insist in extorting $3 extra per tourist, find some other ways to do it. Find some rational ways to do it. Don’t harass the tourists in order to squeeze the $3 out,” Bateman said.
He pointed out that, under the new regulation, boat owners have to go to DFW in Lower Base and get a stamped piece of paper, proceed to the Department of Finance on Capital Hill, which is the nearest place where they can pay, then go back to the Division of Fish and Wildlife and are given wristbands for the tourists to put on.
Bateman said the tourists are then “literally herded” two at a time to fill up a boat and are counted.
He said 10-passenger vans are used to bring the tourists to the Smiling Cove as buses don’t go there because there is no place to unload passengers.
On the double taxation issue, Bateman said a boat owner has to pay a docking fee to park a vessel at the marina.
He cited that one boat operator pays $1,100 a month to park his boat in the Outer Cove Marina, but now he can no longer load his customers at the dock where he has parked his vessel. What the boat operator must do now is drive his boat into the Smiling Cove to the “convenient dock” where he pays FDFW another $1,100 per month.
He pointed out that there is simply not enough room at the Smiling Cove Marina’s “convenient dock.”
“The boats are herded in like cattle in a narrow channel. It’s a dangerous situation,” he said.