Sunday, August 02, 2009

Uracas Floating Hotel

A recent article in CQ Weekly (sorry, no link - Email me for the article) discusses submerged lands and the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
Island Hopping on Bush's Legacy
By Shawn Zeller, CQ Staf

Two weeks before George W. Bush left the White House in January, he sought to bolster what was widely viewed as a lackluster environmental record when he established three marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean. Taken together, they are intended to protect 195,555 square miles of sea — an area the size of Spain — from commercial fishing, mining and other development.

At the time, Joshua S. Reichert, the managing director of the Pew Environment Group, was moved to praise the outgoing president for preserving “a larger area of the world’s marine environment” than “any other person in history.”

Now, though, a Congress controlled by the same Democrats who persistently criticized Bush’s environmental policies appears about to give away part of his maritime legacy.

Two weeks ago the House passed, without a dissenting vote, legislation that would transfer to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands control of territorial waters that intrude on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, the largest of the three sanctuaries Bush established. If the Senate and President Obama agree, the U.S. territory will be free to do what it likes in the water as far as three miles off the coastline — zone it for a floating hotel, for example.
Alright, who suggested that we put a floating hotel in the monument? This has to be some kind of joke, right? Everyone remembers Goveror Fitial's floating hotel from a few years back. There was supposedly an investor from Ohio who wanted to build one on top of the Garapan Fishing Base. It never materialized and the Marianas lost out on a federal grant to build a fish market because the governor had promised the property to the unnamed investor.

Unfortunately, this is not a joke. The Friends of the Monument have expressed concern that Sablan is trying to poke three gaping donut holes in the monument. We sent him a letter several weeks ago outlining our position. He claims that his legislation will not affect the monument declaration.
Sablan has said the bill simply gives the Marianas the same control over submerged land that other territories and coastal states enjoy and corrects what must have been an oversight in a 1976 agreement with Washington. “These lands and waters have always been an integral part of our existence, essential to our well-being and livelihood and to our sense of who we are,” he noted in a statement.
I don't disagree with him. However, the article goes on to explain more of the legislation, perhaps giving us a glimpse into the true intent of the bill. Look for the quote from Sablan's chief of staff, Bob Schwalbach*:
Sablan says he expects that commonwealth officials will agree to continue managing the areas as a marine sanctuary if the legislation passes. But his spokesman, Bob Schwalbach, says the legislation also might offer the islands an economic lift. “If someone wanted to build a marina or a floating hotel or anything offshore that required permitting,” he says, “having that authority in Washington rather than right there in the islands is going to slow things down and make things less attractive to the investor.”
So let me get this straight. He hopes that the area will remain a protected area, but just in case he's planning on making permitting for development easier? Talk about talking out of both sides of your mouth.

This is annoying on so many levels.

First of all, what about the 6000 people that signed the petition for a no take marine monument out to 200 miles? What about the 500 high school students that wrote letters to the President? How about the 200 business owners and managers that signed a business petition for the monument? The 100 local leaders and community activists that wrote letters? The Chamber of Commerce? The Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands? Why go back on everything they asked for?

Secondly, putting a floating hotel or a marina on or around those islands is impossible. All three islands are volcanic. What insurance company is going to insure any type of development sitting atop an active volcano?

I just came back from visiting the northern islands. Trust me when I say there won't be any development on those islands EVER.

uracas eruptingThe northern face of Uracas was emitting smoke on the day we passed it and I've seen video of it erupting. The smoke is on the left side of the hill in this photo.

Asuncion islandAsuncion also showed signs of recent eruption, like this giant upside down V burned into its western face.

Finally, it's unconstitutional. Article XIV, Section 2 of the Northern Marianas Constitution reads, "The islands of Maug, Uracas, Asuncion, Guguan and other islands specified by law shall be maintained as uninhabited places and used only for the preservation and protection of natural resources, including but not limited to bird, wildlife and plant species." A marina and a floating hotel are not in line with the spirit of preservation and protection of natural resources or the intent of our constitution.

Read Karl Reyes' letter from September 2008 for a fuller explanation of the constitutional issues surrounding the monument.

Sablan is trying to take the credit for the turnover of state waters and submerged lands to the Marianas without getting the blame for significantly reducing the protections around those islands. He can't have it both ways.

The submerged lands of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument are addressed in the presidential proclamation declaring the monument.

Scroll down to the bottom of page two to find:
"Submerged lands that by legislation are subsequently granted by the United States to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands but remain controlled by the United States under the Antiquities Act may remain part of the monument, for coordination of management with the Government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana 3 Islands. Any submerged lands and interests in submerged lands within the monument not owned or controlled by the United States shall be reserved as a part of the monument upon acquisition of title or control by the United States. [emphasis added]"
The difference between conservation and donut holes lies with the word may.

I've reported on this blog about how in recent months the Fitial administration has approved a plan to allow foreign fishing vessels in the United States EEZ surrounding our islands and their claims that the Endangered Species Act should not apply to endangered birds on Saipan.

If given the choice between conservation and donut holes, my guess is that the Fitial administration MAY NOT opt to have those waters remain a part of the monument. Sablan should have the wherewithal to know what this governor will do. He has the opportunity to act in a way which would fulfill the intent of our Constitution, get us one step closer to "co-management" rather than "in consultation with," and protect one of the last vestiges of what our islands were like before contact with the West (the islands are not pristine, which is very sad).

Or he can punch three donut holes in the monument.

(*See Bob's response in the comments section)


Saipan Writer said...

Do you really think we deserve co-management?

With this type of idiocy, no.

With our record on marine conservation? no. (just look at the photos you brought back of our northern islands--supposedly to be kept pristine!)

With our record of flip-flops: Legislators willing to withdraw/repeal any legislation that takes us in a progressive direction (like minimum wage; like zoning...)? No.

Forget about co-management.

Kilili--the floating hotel is nonsense. Get us federal funds to help us go up to our three northernmost islands and clean up the debris documented in these photos! Let us start to do something right.

And please stop the idiocy!

Anonymous said...

So are you blaming the locals for the trash up north as well, Saipan Writer? Give me a break.

g00$e said...

Focus Noni, focus... breathe deep, then re-read her post.

But cleaning the Northern Islands won't do any more good than cleaning Tanke Beach every month. A month later it's buried in plastic rubble again. Attempts to clean the ocean up are futile for the same reasons. The only way to clean up Tanke Beach, the Northern Isles and the rest of the world is to stop using plastic and to move away from the hugely wasteful consumerist lifestyle- a monumentally futile effort if there ever was one.

On another note- $chwalbach and $ablan are no different from those folks who have turned the Grand Canyon, Yellostone and other natural wonder sites into crass, semi-disneyfied, glitzy 'experiences'. They view the environment and everything in it in terms of potential profit.

If Kill-Lilly and Boy-Bob really wants to improve the CNMI, US and world economies they should be screaming for the end of the I-Rack and Blastganastan wars.

The Saipan Blogger said...

An annual cleanup should be part of the management of the monument. If it is done the same month every year, then a good understanding of how much washes ashore annually can be gained.

Anonymous said...

Pardon, goose,but the alternative to what you deem as crass commercialism (which is really more equitable access) is the occasional foray by treehuggers, scientists (junk or not) and a few connected hangers on.

Personally, I would like to see some development. Something, anything that would enable joe shmoe taxpayer (who funds this monument system)to gain access to it.

BTW, how much of that trash did you guys haul out of there?

The Saipan Blogger said...

We weren't equipped to bring that stuff out. Even that small pile from the first picture in the Maug Needs Beautify CNMI post would have filled the boat. It will require a very large boat with a lot of deck space to get that stuff out of there. Perhaps the Micronesian or the Lady Saipan?

bobschwalbach said...

Just so no one thinks that Congressman Sablan suggested that there be a floating hotel in the islands unit of the Monument, let me make it clear he did not. Furthermore, I protest that my comment was taken out of context by CQ. I mentioned marinas and other forms of off-shore development in connection with the populated islands of the NMI, where these structures might be useful and appropriate. HR 934, by conveying submerged lands to the NMI, makes decisions about this kind of development more a local matter, not solely in the hands of the federal government. That's not a bad thing, is it?

Also, on further reflection I would say that though the image of a Marriot tethered to Uracas horrifies me, as I'm sure it does others who reacted to "floating hotel," let's not forget that the vessel Angelo used to explore the islands was itself a floating hotel. And would it be so bad if others had the opportunity he had?