CNMI: Rota National Park Study, Submerged Lands Bills Approved by House Committee

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Washington D.C.  – The House Natural Resources Committee Thursday approved a bill to study the suitability and feasibility of establishing a National Park on Rota. The study is required before Congress can make any park designation. The Committee also reported a bill conveying submerged lands to the Northern Mariana Islands. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Sablan introduced both bills earlier this year using the same language for both that had passed in the last Congress. There was no amendment or objection to either bill from anyone on the Committee.

“This is a very positive step for both the Rota Park bill and the submerged lands bill,” said Congressman Sablan. “I look forward to getting these measures to the House for a vote soon and then on to the Senate for action.

Sablan, also, noted the positive benefits of working in a bipartisan way for the needs of the Northern Mariana Islands. He thanked Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) and Ranking Member Edward Markey (D-MA) for deciding to bring the bills before the Committee today for a “mark-up.” Both leaders agreed that the bills were non-controversial; and Hastings simply asked the Committee for unanimous consent, which was quickly given.

Afterwards, Markey noted, “Today, the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously passed H.R. 670 and H.R. 1141, two bills sponsored by my friend and colleague Congressman Kilili Sablan.  I applaud Congressman Sablan for his hard work and determination in achieving this legislative victory on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”

Sablan also extended his appreciation to Chairman John Fleming (R-LA) of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Areas for holding the necessary legislative hearing on submerged lands on May 12th and to Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Chairman and Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva (D-AR) for holding a hearing on the Rota Park study on May 4th.

The submerged lands bill, H.R. 670, gives the Northern Marianas control of the lands three miles out from its shores.

“H.R. 670 is important because it will give the people of the Northern Marianas direct control of activities in the water surrounding our islands. It will allow for economic development and other use consistent with principles of sustainability and with the standards of stewardship that are part of our cultural tradition,” Sablan explained.

H.R. 1141 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability and feasibility of designating areas of archaeological, historic, and natural value on Rota as a unit of the National Park System. A National Park Service reconnaissance survey, requested by Rota officials and completed in 2005, found that Rota had areas that were of “national significance” and that the appropriate next step would be a suitability and feasibility study. H.R. 1141 follows up on that recommendation.

“Numerous constituents, including elected officials on Rota, have voiced their support for a National Park,” Sablan said. “They underscore the importance of this bill for future land management decisions on Rota and for the protection of the cultural and natural resources of which the residents of Rota are understandably proud.”

“Having a Rota National Park could also have significant economic benefits for Rota,” the Congressman added.

Both the Rota Park bill and the NMI submerged lands bill passed the House of Representatives in thelast Congress, then died in the Senate without action.

“It is always difficult to predict what the Senate will do – or when,” Sablan said. “However, at my request Chairman Bingaman and Senator Murkowski did introduce Senate companion legislation for my submerged lands bill earlier this year and have already held a hearing, so that does clear the way.”