Monday, August 15, 2011

Monument Blame Salvation

The last few times I've been to Saipan I've had people accost me about the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. Where are the jobs!? Where is the boat!?

It gets tiring. I feel like I've written about this issue endlessly and do not want to repeat what I have already published so many times. My story and my position on the issue hasn't changed in the two and a half years since the monument was declared.

With that said, I'm glad I can finally blame someone else for why there is no visitor's center yet. Last year I traveled with Agnes McPhetres to Washington, DC (at the time I didn't know I'd be living here in three short months) to testify on behalf of a visitors center being built on Saipan, not Guam (sorry, Guam friends).

While we were there we met with both Delegate Gregorio Sablan and officials from NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries and we helped identify nearly one quarter million dollars that could be used to design a visitors center.

I have been advocating for using the Navy Hill Lighthouse as the site of the Angelo Villagomez Eco-Discovery Center because of its link to maritime history and panoramic view of the Saipan Lagoon and Managaha. Some people have raised the concern that it is not close enough to the water and that it is "up on a mountain," but this concern is ridiculous. The lighthouse is barely 800 meters from shore. In high school I could run that distance in under two minutes.

The purpose of the design plan was to create a concept folder that could be shopped around to funders and the United States Congress. The concept plan would have diagrams for how the Lighthouse would have to be refurbished, as well as draft plans for exhibits. There was plenty of money in the budget for meetings and outreach to all three islands, and honestly, probably enough for the government to skim some off the top for other projects.

And all that funding was nearly lost because someone forget to file a financial report. There is only so much a concerned citizen can do. There comes a point where the government has to do its job.  It has been nearly two years since President Barack Obama authorized Kilili's earmark for NOAA and a year and half since the work plan was developed between DLNR and NOAA.

The visitors center should already be designed.  It should be done.  The Friends of the Monument, the Fitial Administration, NOAA, and Delegate Sablan should have a notebook in their hands that they could be taking around to funders, federal offices, and the United States Congress.

I've been accused of being an angry young man before, but this should really make you angry, too!  The Angelo Villagomez Eco-Discovery Center (we can work on the name later if you really have a problem with it) could serve as a corner stone of the new CNMI economy.

The garment factories and the low wage economy are out and the only option is tourism.  The visitors center could and should be the premier attraction on Saipan, but the local government has to put in the man hours to make it happen.  No one is going to do this for them (mostly because I'm not on Saipan anymore).

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