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    Tuesday, December 11, 2018-7:44:54P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Zoning Board approves ultralight trike business in Marpi

THE Zoning Board on Thursday approved the conditional-use application of Songbird Aviation LLC to operate the ultralight trike, also known as flex-wing trikes or weight-shift-control aircraft, in Marpi.

The approval came despite concerns about the environment, noise pollution and the potential impact on historical landmarks.

But board chairman Diego Blanco said two major tour operators, Pacific Development Inc. and Tasi Tours, have expressed strong support for the proposed new business.

Gia Park of Mode Tour testified the trikes will attract more tourists, saying that memorial sites are no longer as popular as they used to be..

Saipan Chamber of Commerce president Alex Sablan, who testified as a private citizen, said there’s an indications that tourists, especially young tourists, want more activities on island.

Marianas Visitors Authority Managing Director Perry Tenorio, for his part, asked the board to “table” the application, saying he wants to hear from other travel agencies.

But he said MVA is not against the new business.

Long-time educator Elizabeth Rechebei is concerned about the noise that will emanate from the aircraft.

“Our island is small and to allow this is asking for disaster,” she told the board, as she noted that low-flying aircraft are already constantly hovering over her residence in San Antonio.

But applicant and local lawyer Stepher J. Nutting explained that their trikes will emit a low level of sound, at 71 decibels which is lower than the sound of a blender, which is 90 decibels.

“When flying about 400 feet above the ground the sound level is roughly like a conversation without a microphone,” he said, adding that they have to fly at levels as required by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Permit applicant Stephen J. Nutting explains to the Zonng Board the trike business and its benefits to the tourism industry.  Photo by Junhan B. TodinoPermit applicant Stephen J. Nutting explains to the Zonng Board the trike business and its benefits to the tourism industry. Photo by Junhan B. Todino

Guam-based National Park Service superintendent Jim Richardson objected to the granting of the conditional-use permit, saying that the proposal will harm the character and intent of the designation of Marpi Point as a National Historic Landmark.

“NPS owns no land [there],” he told the board. “I don’t have a vote, only a voice. It is up to the people of the CNMI to decide to retain the somber and reverent character of this area that has served as an important focal point for many persons, some of whom come to Saipan just to pay their respects to the sacrifice made by so many, now 70 years ago.”

He said while operating ultra-light aircraft is not inherently bad, any noisy activities in Marpi are “completely out of character with somber and commemorative contemplation.”

He said their “objection is not with the activity itself or their profit motive. Our objection is simply this location that is important for remembering those that died here.”

Shelly Kremer of the U.S. Division of Fish and Wildlife shared Richardson sentiments.

Zoning Administrator Therese Ogumoro said the trike operation is classified as amusement, outdoor and is permitted in the district as conditional use.

The proposed location of the new business is southeast of Banzai Cliff between the veterans cemetery and the former Cowtown which is zoned as rural, she added.

The zoning staff recommended the approval of the application that will require Songbird Aviation to comply with FAA regulations and the requirements of CNMI regulatory agencies.

Blanco asked Nutting to work with MVA whenever there’s a scheduled memorial service in the Marpi area.