US Congress designates US$500,000 for Northern Marianas Visitor Center


WASHINGTON, DC – US Congress has appropriated US$500,000 in a fiscal 2011 spending bill for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Center in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

“This is very good news for the Northern Mariana Islands,” said Congressman Sablan. “As we look ahead to rebuilding our economy, the Monument Visitor Center will be an important attraction in itself.

“The existence of the Monument Visitor Center will also say to potential visitors: ‘The Marianas have beautiful oceans and a well-preserved environment.’ That’s a message that will also definitely bring tourists to our islands.”

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment & Related Agencies unveiled its fiscal 2011 spending plan late on Thursday in Washington. Included in the bill is US$500,000 for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to go toward construction of the Visitor Center in the NMI.

“I am very grateful to Chairman Jim Moran and the other members of the Subcommittee,” Kilili said. “They faced some tough spending choices.

“In fact, funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service was cut by $5 million. So, to be awarded a half million dollars under those circumstances is even more remarkable.”

The US$500,000 earmark for the Visitor Center brings Kilili’s total congressionally requested appropriations to US$1,9750,000 for the coming fiscal year.

“We are $600,000 better than last year,” Sablan said. “Seniority and relationships built up with members of the Appropriations Committee make a difference.”

The Subcommittee mark-ups with Sablan’s money for the Marianas are only the first step in the formal legislative process and do not guarantee the funding will be in the bill the President signs into law.

“We will, of course, have to continue to work with the House leadership to make sure we keep our money in the various appropriations bills. And we may have to work on this in November or December, after the elections.

“But we are in. That’s the important thing,” Sablan said.

The US$500,000 earmark for the Monument Visitor Center may be used for site planning, architectural engineering, and design. In his request to the Subcommittee, Congressman Sablan recommended that existing Fish and Wildlife Service Visitor Center/Headquarters designs be utilized for the facility in the Northern Marianas to make the project more affordable.

It is expected that the US Fish and Wildlife Service will coordinate with the CNMI government to determine an appropriate location for the Visitor Center.

“When the White House established the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, it promised that the people of the Northern Marianas would derive economic benefit,” Sablan says.

“I was not a party to those negotiations. But I do think I have a responsibility, as the federal official representing our islands, to make sure that the federal government keeps its commitment.

“The decision to make US$500,000 available for the Visitor Center definitely begins to fulfill that promise.”