Lawmaker questions sustainability of Marpi integrated resort project

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DURING a public hearing held Monday on the governor’s three nominees to the Commonwealth Casino Commission, Rep. Sheila J. Babauta inquired about the sustainability of the 2,000-room integrated resort project in Marpi proposed by Imperial Pacific International.

“Do you believe that this is a sustainable phase for this industry and for our Commonwealth?” she asked the nominees: former commission executive director Edward C. Deleon Guerrero, former Speaker Rafael S. Demapan, and former Rep. Mario Taitano.

“It is [sustainable],” Taitano said. “Given that all of us stakeholders support this company in its effort to get the property and build phase one and phase two, so that [IPI] can proceed with its business plan to make Saipan an especially successful place for tourists and the local people alike.”

But “given the impact of Covid-19 on the global economy and global tourism,” Babauta said, “many experts feel that it will take years before tourists have the confidence to fly again because of health concerns. Given that kind of data and advice from experts for our tourism to bounce back, realistically, how do you foresee this playing out for us in the Commonwealth given our competition in the Pacific?”

Demapan said he believes that Marpi is the “right place…if we do it right. It is away from [residential] communities, and again, if we do right, I believe that it will work.”

Deleon Guerrero said the exclusive casino license agreement “specifies the development, construction, and eventual implementation of an integrated resort of five-star quality, and this includes hotels, a convention center, water parks, and entertainment areas.

He said the only land area available for these developments is in Marpi.

But Babauta believes that the integrated project is not sustainable, in that it relies heavily on tourism to generate revenue.

“I would like to see us be a more self-sustaining community where we are not so vulnerable to the outside, like what happened with this pandemic. I really do have hope for that, given that our Northern Islands are really largely untouched.”

She added, “The trickle-down effect is real, the positive and the negative. This sole licensee has impacted our community socially, environmentally, and even historically with our community still concerned about the ancient bones that were dug up and how they are still being stored in a container,”

She was referring to the ancestral remains and other artifacts that were excavated from the site in Garapan where IPI is constructing a hotel-casino.

All the three nominees said revoking the license of IPI would just further delay the hotel-casino project.

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