Marianas Variety

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Editorials 2018-September-21

Bad news

LITTERING and illegal dumping are old, stubborn problems.

Forty (not a typo) years ago, Variety reported that the CNMI government was launching an anti-littering campaign, “Trash — Don’t Toss It, Take It.” On Oct 20, 1978, one of our headlines was: “Volunteers Clean Grotto Site.” The trash consisted of “beer and soft drink cans, roofing tin, boards and other rubbish….”

On Jan. 8, 1979, we reported about the creation of an island cleanup task force. During its first meeting, members discussed methods of  “improving village cleanup, solid waste pickup in the villages, highways and beaches, methods of controlling flies and mosquitoes and means of reducing the stray dog population….” Variety asked its readers, “What suggestions do you have to help beautify Saipan?” Some of the answers:

“Clean up the beaches. Get the island in better shape. Saipan Mas Mauleg.”

“Stop litter[ing]. Pick up empty cans on the road.”

“There’s too much litter.”

On Nov. 13, 1979, Variety ran a front-page story titled, “Illegal Dumping Scored.” The accompanying photo showed “Mayor Frank Diaz [looking] over [a] pile of trash dumped illegally at Agingan Point.”  According to our report, “A public dump [the one in Puerto Rico, which the NMI ‘inherited’ from the U.S. military]…has reached capacity, [leading to] illegal dumping and the littering of roadsides. These problems have reached a near-crisis in the view of the governor’s cleanup task force.” Said Mayor Diaz: “The litter problem in Saipan is absolutely overwhelming.”

This was in 1978-1979, the first two years of the Commonwealth. The economy was small. The local population was about 18,000. There were less than 1,000 guest workers. Some 70 percent of the CNMI government’s budget came from the feds. In 1978, the minimum wage was 80 cents an hour (worth about $3.09 today). That year, 92,000 tourists visited the NMI. (In 2017, visitor arrivals totaled 653,150.)

Littering was supposed to have been “solved” by the 1989 anti-littering law. Last year, BECQ said the new and improved anti-littering law was being implemented. Eight — not one or two — agencies are supposed to be enforcing the law.

How’s that working so far? Let’s ask the community members who participated in the recent coastal cleanup event — or the other volunteers who conduct cleanups now and then.

Some have a proposed a universal trash collection. It is something to consider — once we know how it’s supposed to work, who will run it, who’s paying and how much. The “problem,” however, is not “universal.” Not everyone is littering. Not everyone is illegally disposing of their trash. Perhaps instead of another one-size-fits-all government program, direct assistance can be directly provided to low-income families who can’t afford to pay private trash collection. But who determines who these low-income families are? What are the criteria? What about the funding source?

As government officials and concerned citizens ponder these questions, the law must be fully implemented, at least in some of the areas where most of the littering and illegal dumping occur.

Good news

THROUGH the years, community members and other volunteers have relentlessly conducted regular cleanups in beach areas, other tourist sites and even residential villages. Students and businesses continue to join environmental groups, and other concerned citizens are still banding together to help protect the environment and raise awareness with significant help from local and federal agencies.

All-year-round, the good, law-abiding people of these islands have remained as persistent as the very few bad ones.