My best guess is that we have a 50/50 chance of this thing happening. I have said from day one that this is something the President might be interesting in doing if there was a show of local support. No need to take my word for it, John Gourley did a good job of chronicling that sentiment for me in my blogs and letters to the editor in his latest letter to the editor (I'd say last letter, but we all know it won't be his last).
There has been an incredible showing of support. Even the naysayers have to admit that there have been almost 80 letters to the editor written in support. On the blogs, although there is a plentitude of negative anonymous comments, not a single Saipan based blogger has written something negative about the monument. This is in comparison to just under 30 letters to the editor written in non-support, over a third of which were written and signed by one particular person. Furthermore, a majority were written by people associated with an advisory council openly opposed to large protected areas.
Members of both legislative bodies wrote letters to the President requesting dialogue, as did several former legislators and other elected officials. Several business leaders, including board members of the Chamber of Commerce, environmental organizations, educators, and many long time residents and indigenous Chamorros and Carolininians wrote letters in support.
On the flip side, the Legislature passed a resolution asking the President of the United States to not act unilaterally and to discuss this issue with the people of the CNMI before taking any action. The Northern Islands Mayor asked for more time to look into the issue and requested 902 talks. The mayors of Tinian and Rota signed identical form letters in support of the current management scheme under WESPAC. The Saipan mayor is neutral. The governor is opposed.
The White House took all this into account, along with the Scientific Case for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument and the Economic Impact of a proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, and decided that an assessment of the area was warranted.
That is where we stand today. An assessment has begun and no decisions have been made.
The local Department of Interior official is aiding in the assessment. He has started gathering information and forwarding in on to DC. An official from NOAA in Hawaii, Allen Tom, was here last week to gather information and to set up the public meetings that will take place in October. In addition to meeting with the governor, both houses of the legislature, business leaders, the indigenous community, fishermen, and environmentalists, he investigated potential sites for the meetings to take place next month, hotels for the federal officials to stay in, the best place to find chicken kelaguin, and so on.
From what I understand, several workshops will take place on Saipan and Guam the week of October 20 and the White House is already taking public comment. According to the CEQ website, "The Council and agencies involved in the assessment are planning to conduct several public open houses to further facilitate public input and discussion. At any time, the public can provide input on this issue to the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality by writing him at 722 Jackson Place, N.W., Washington D.C. 20503 or via email at Chairman@ceq.eop.gov."
Locally, the Friends of the Monument group is taking charge of building support for the monument. Led by Ignacio Cabrera, a 20 year retiree from the Division of Environmental Quality, and Agnes McPhetres, who started the local college and worked there for 17 years, the group is collecting signatures in support of the monument and making regular appearances in the local media, such as Harry Blalock's Island Issues radio talk show and John Gonzales' MP 96950 tv talk show. In the last week they have started a blog and released a public service announcement to help aid public education efforts.
Their public service announcement is even featured on one of the Discovery Channel blogs, Deep Sea News.
As for the Pew Environment Group, our role in the designation of a monument will continue to diminish. Now that the White House has undertaken an assessment, all discussions will be between the people and government of the CNMI and the White House. We will continue to hold our public meetings thrice weekly and reach out to local people to education them on the benefits of a monument, but all decisions will be made by the government.
...and that is your monument update.