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Kilili: National park for Rota for the people to decide

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(Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan says the National Park Service findings that a Rota National Historical Park is both suitable and feasible is a post-Covid economic opportunity for the Marianas.

“This is good news at a time when the economic future of the Marianas is uncertain,” Congressman Sablan said. “But, as the Park Service draft report indicates, a national park is only feasible with the partnership of the Commonwealth government, the Rota municipal government, and, especially, public agreement that this is the right step to take.”

The National Park Service has issued preliminary results of a special resource study of the island of Rota. The study was authorized by Congress in 2014, after four years of work by Congressman Sablan. In 2015, he secured funding; and the Park Service began its study.

The preliminary report released today determined that the ancient Chamorro sites on Rota, the island’s uniquely intact limestone forests, and historical artifacts of the Japanese colonial period were found nowhere else in the national park system. The study proposes three alternative courses of action for a public discussion that will formally begin in September with virtual meetings and opportunities for written comment.

The study lays our three alternatives: The first is to continue the current management by the Commonwealth and Rota municipal government agencies. The second and third alternatives are for the Commonwealth and the Rota municipal governments to enter into a management agreement with the Park Service for a Chamorro National Historical Park (about 526 hectares), or for a Chamorro, limestone forest, and WWII sites National Historical Park (about 1,780 hectares). All lands would remain in Commonwealth ownership consistent with Article XII.

 Currently there are only 57 national historical parks nationwide. These include such places of importance as Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, Valley Forge, and the Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War ended.

After the public makes its views known, the Park Service will send a final report to the Secretary of the Interior, who will in turn transmit a recommendation to Congress. Only Congress can actually create a national park.

Importance of public input

“A Rota National Park is an idea that started in Rota,” Congressman Sablan explained. “Senator Diego Songao suggested it to me, when I was first elected in 2009; and I immediately pushed a bill authorizing the resource study through the U.S. House of Representatives.”

The U.S. Senate was less interested in the idea. However, Sablan persisted. In his second term in 2012, he again introduced and passed a bill in the House, and then again in his third term in 2013. Both bills received a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Sablan was then able to piggyback his legislation on the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, P.L. 113-291. And he got the study funded in the FY16 Consolidated Appropriations Act, P.L. 114-113.

Throughout the long process the people of Rota have been supporters. At the House hearing in 2010, then-Representative Teresita A. Santos, showed the Natural Resources Committee slides of Mochon Latte Stone Village, Chugai Pictorial Cave, and the Taga Latte Stone Quarry, during her testimony. Sablan asked Santos to testify in her capacity as chair of the Northern Marianas Legislature’s Committee on Natural Resources.

After Santos’ presentation, Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., called Rota “a jewel.” And the Obama administration, too, supported a Park Service “suitability and feasibility” study.

During the study there has been further public comment. The preliminary report says that “politicians and business owners view a new unit of the national park system as a driver of tourism on Rota where there are limited economic opportunities.

“Overall, residents who attended public meetings and/or provided comments viewed a unit of the national park system on Rota as beneficial and supported NPS management and programming of the nationally significant sites.” The study also noted public concerns about limits on traditional hunting, collecting, and agricultural practices.

“We know what happens when the government takes action — like approving the Imperial Pacific casino — that do not have the support of the people or disrespect our culture,” Congressman Sablan said. “So, I encourage everyone to take a look at the Park Service report and provide input. We will have copies at the congressional offices.

“Rota has the kind of unique and beautiful sites that people from around the world would come to see — a permanent source of economic activity in the future that would be based on our Chamorro heritage that stretches back 3,000 years.

“Now, we need to hear from the people of Rota and the people of the Marianas: What do the people want to do? That is next question to answer.”

Sablan is a senior member of the House Natural Resources Committee, which will have jurisdiction over any legislation creating a Rota National Park.

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