Hearing on Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility

February 25, 2010

I opted to meet with a federal official to discuss issues related to guest workers rather than attend the hearing today on the National Marine Monument.

Below are links to the hearing that took place in the Longworth House Office Building at 10:00 a.m.

Congresswoman Madeleiene Bordallo gave the opening remarks. She stated in part:
Mr. Sablan’s bill, which would establish a visitors’ center for the Monument in the Northern Marianas, is intended to advance such public awareness, and I am proud to be adding my name as a co-sponsor of his legislation. My legislation would give Guam a voice in the management of the Monument and ensure that the Monument also advances and compliments the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System of which it is a part.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses, and I stand fully committed to working with the gentleman from the Northern Marianas and the Administration to build a management and education program commensurate with the great promise of this marine national monument. Through collaboration, we can make this vision a reality and a legacy for all.
CNMI Governor Benigno Fitial testified. From his testimony:
In the early part of May 2009, I wrote to Department of Interior Secretary Salazar to express my concern over the lack of action with respect to the planning and funding of the Marianas Monument visitor center. I relayed to the Secretary that the Council on Environmental Quality made it very clear to us that a visitor center was a fundamental part of the Marianas Monument and that it would be federally funded and constructed in the CNMI.
Two months after my letter to Secretary Salazar, CNMI’s Representative Gregorio C. Sablan submitted H.R. 3511 which sought to authorize the construction of a visitor and science center in the CNMI. Unfortunately, no significant progress has been made to date.
Fulfilling the promise
It must be made clear that a visitor and science center was negotiated and promised to the CNMI in return for our support of the Marianas Monument. While I certainly hope that both the CNMI and Guam will ultimately have visitor and science centers, I firmly believe that is incumbent upon the federal Government to honor its negotiated obligation to the CNMI with all due respect and fairness for the people of the CNMI.
The Proclamation itself calls for consultation with the CNMI government for the management and planning of the monument. It also specifically provides for “a program to assess and promote monument-related scientific exploration and research, tourism, and recreational and economic activities and opportunities in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”
Eileen Soback, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife also gave testimony on behalf of the Department of Interior. She stated that the Department of Interior has no objection to the passage of either of Congressman Sablan's H.R. 3511 or Congresswoman Bordallo's H.R. 4493. Her testimony summarized the history and significance of the monument. She stated:
The Secretaries of Interior and Commerce...are also required to treat the Government of CNMI as a cooperating agency consistent with these authorities. The monument management plans must be administered in accordance with the proclamation.

In addition, the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce, after considering recommendations from the Governor of CNMI, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, must establish the Mariana Monument Advisory Council to provide advice and recommendations on the development of management plans and management of the monument. Under the Proclamation, the Advisory Council must consist of three officials from the government of CNMI and one representative each from the Department of Defense and the United States Coast Guard.
She also testified:
Although Guam is not specifically provided for in Presidential Proclamation 8335, the Department believes H.R. 4493 is in accordance with the spirit of the proclamation and consistent with its stated goals.
The Department has no objection to H.R. 4493. We strongly support the Government of Guam participating with the Service and other entities for the purpose of implementing Presidential Proclamation 8335 and future management of Marianas Trench MNM. We encourage all potential partners in this important project to approach its management in a collaborative and supportive manner.
However, in regard to establishment of a multipurpose center in Guam, as described above in regard to H.R. 3511, the proposed project would need to compete with existing projects before moving forward. If the project moves forward, the Department encourages the Subcommittee to consider the potential benefits and efficiencies of co-locating new facilities on the Guam National Wildlife Refuge.
Testifying for Felix Camacho "Governor of Guahan" was Evangeline D. Lujan:
I support the treatment of Guahan as a cooperative agency similarly as the government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). I believe that we should support a more collaborative approach to the protection of any marine resources within Guam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and I am pleased that the concerns of Guahan’s citizens with regard to management of the monument especially related to resource management and fishing access to offshore banks will be considered in the development of a management plan.
The bill recognizes that Guahan plays a role in the management of natural resources in a regional way. This will further strengthen the support for managing marine resources within the Marianas archipelago and its impact to the rest of Micronesia.
Also, I support efforts for a seat on the advisory council with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and U.S. Department of Commerce in the development and implementing of the management plan and management regulations. Further, I am in full support of the appointment of the members of the Marianas Monument Advisory Council. As Governor, I request to have at least one member and one alternate to the Council. I think CNMI will have 3 with 3 alternates.

The bill recognizes that Guahan plays a role in the management of natural resources in a regional way. This will further strengthen the support for managing marine resources within the Marianas archipelago and its impact to the rest of Micronesia.
Also, I support efforts for a seat on the advisory council with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and U.S. Department of Commerce in the development and implementing of the management plan and management regulations. Further, I am in full support of the appointment of the members of the Marianas Monument Advisory Council. As Governor, I request to have at least one member and one alternate to the Council. I think CNMI will have 3 with 3 alternates.
There must be further expansion and enhancement of existing visitor programs at the Guam National Wildlife Refuge. The support should be in the form of public education, research and support of the understanding of the unique ecosystem. I support the initiation of comprehensive program that includes nature resources exploration and research, and public education and appreciation in consultation with the Government of Guam.
Guam supports more analysis as part of the comprehensive program that includes a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis, and long term management and monitoring strategy.
However, Guahan does not support the construction or leasing of a facility for promotion of the monument. I do recommend that appropriate funds be made available to Guahan to hire local educational specialists within the appropriate federal and local government of Guam agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and the Guam Coastal Management program to educate the community about the valuable fish, wildlife and coral resources of Guahan especially the special natural resources within the Marianas Trench National Monument. I am in full support of funding to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Government of Guahan to partner with the Guam Department of Education, University of Guam and Guam Community College to educate students on natural resources of the monument.
Through interagency collaboration, there must be an identifying of funds to the Government of Guahan for the Guam Museum to document, preserve and display artifacts to demonstrate the importance of the marine environment, geology, ecology and living and nonliving resources, indigenous fishing practices of the monument to the people of Guam within the monument.
It is crucial that the interests of the Government of Guahan in the preliminary designs and studies are protected. For example, the southern islands of the Marianas Trench have higher biodiversity and greater habitat diversity as compared to the northern islands. It is imperative that facts such as these are considered in a site selection process. In addition to involvement of the local governments, meaningful stakeholder input from the general public is crucial especially with regard to marine conservation actions. Joint responsibility for management of the proposed area of conservation should be shared by the local jurisdiction and the federal government.
Finally I recommend an operational presence of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center, the Sanctuary Programs and NOAA’s Pacific Island Regional Office so we have a team of locally hired people to assist with the development of a comprehensive management plan for the area.
I applaud the Chairwoman for her work on this issue, and on behalf of the people of Guahan lend her our full support.
Testimony from Dr. Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institute's Sant Chair of Marine Science at the Museum of Natural History offered assistance to both the CNMI and Guam in creating their own educational facilities and resources.

Testimony of Agnes McPhetres, Vice Chair Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument. This testimony gave a complete history of the monument and detailed the fact that the idea originated in and was supported by residents from the CNMI. It also detailed Governor Fitial's initial non-interest in the monument, which was a catalyst for the campaign that would become known as the Friends of the Monument. It outlined the opposition by WESPAC and the fact that most initial opponents, including the governor, eventually became supporters.

She stated:
If you compare this to Guam where there was a single public meeting hosted by the White House and no public outreach it becomes clear that the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument belongs to the people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

It was the people of the Northern Mariana Islands who asked for the monument and we are deserving of the economic, social, and environmental benefits of a monument.
Here are the recommendations Agnes McPhetres included in her testimony:
We are concerned with and oppose H.R. 4493. A true enhancement to the monument would be for the federal government to deliver to the people of the Marianas the promises they made in the run up to the designation of the monument, beginning with the passage of H.R. 3511 and the construction of a Marianas Trench Visitor’s Center in the CNMI.
Furthermore, the Friends ask the Subcommittee to explore improving upon the monument declaration by (1) increasing the scope and scale of the protections, (2) closing some loopholes that allow harmful extractive activities within the monument, and (3) transferring managerial authority to NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries.
The original vision for the monument was for the entire United States EEZ surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asunction to be set aside as a no-take marine protected area reserved for education, culture, research, and the environment.
The only extractive activity that should be allowed within the Islands Unit is fishing for indigenous cultural practices.
Jurisdiction for the monument should be handed over from USFWS to NOAA Office of National Marine National Sanctuaries (ONMSP). WESPAC should also be removed from management for the Islands Unit and replaced with ONMSP, whose mission is more in line with conservation and the Friends vision for the monument. ONMSP is also more sensitive to local concerns and needs than WESPAC.
Part of our reasoning for requesting the inclusion of NOAA ONMSP is that they have more experience managing blue water regularly. USFWS does not typically manage blue water and except for ocean connected to significant land-based features they do not manage water anywhere that we are aware of; all of their ocean managed areas are tied to important land resources such as seabirds, turtles, and seals. In the CNMI the monument doesn’t include any land at all so this is a very unusual situation for them. Also, USFWS usually focus on land-based vertebrates such as mentioned above, not so much fish – though the Friends recognize that they have some terrific coral reef ecologists.
Staffing at the ONMS is also more appropriate to the needs of the CNMI. They have more outreach and education staff that focus on bringing sanctuaries to the people. USFWS is more of a research-oriented agency where the education and outreach are not so central to their mission.
Watch the video here.


Anonymous said...

Any visitors center construction will be years in the making, probably like a decade, two or never. Also do not forget that this monument does NOT belong to the people of the CNMI, it belongs to the Federal Government.

Anonymous said...

I can’t help but notice that the Friends of the Monument (FOMers) continue to push the original Pew Monument plan – a plan that follows closely with the management regime of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. In case you didn’t notice, the Pew Monument proposal was soundly rejected by the CNMI Government, CNMI people, White House and CEQ...

The legal avenue that the federal Government used in designating the monuments - the Antiquities Act - was also not supported from a regional perspective (CNMI, Guam, ROP, RMI, and FSM). But, our concerns were disregarded and Bush was rewarded a ‘blue legacy’ from the environmental community and the Marianas archipelago got a marine monument anyway.

No one – except the President - actually got what they wanted, but the compromise negotiated by the CNMI negotiating team (Governor Fitial, Senate President Reyes, and House Speaker Palacios) was fair and much more culturally acceptable to the people of the Marianas than the Pew Monument proposal.

The bitterness in the FOMers letters is quite obvious and unfortunately, the arrogance that we all experienced in 2008 appears to be still alive. I hope someday soon, the FOMers can put aside their differences and just leave the monument management regime and boundaries well enough alone so that WE can create something positive. The monument belongs to all of us in the Marianas (Guam and the CNMI); not just the FOMers.

John Gourley
Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands

Anonymous said...

The Monument belongs to the American people. The visitotr's center should be in the CNMI. Would the visitor's center for the Grand Canyon be in Massachusetts?

Anonymous said...

To Anonys:

I stated “The monument belongs to all of us in the Marianas (Guam and the CNMI); not just the FOMers.”

You are absolutely correct in saying the Monument belongs to the federal Government and therefore the American People - I stand corrected.

John Gourley
Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands

Anonymous said...

He's back!

Anonymous said...

John, I heard someone was trying to protect a single fish somewhere in Siberia. You should go try and stop them.

Anonymous said...

The FOMers lost in their political attempt to oust the Covenant Party. Now they are turning their attention to the many empty promises they made in 2008.

Maybe they will have better luck this time?

For the sake of our people, let us hope Washington listens to our elected leaders and not the Bitter FOMers.

The Saipan Blogger said...

Many of the so-called FOMers are in Fitial's Cabinet. Different FOM members supported all the political parties in the last election; we enjoy widespread support from many political stripes.