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Monday, October 16, 2006

Food for my Mind: Local Commentary

Harry Blalock says:
Even though things seem to be very frustrating and discouraging lately on almost every level, there are glimmers of hope that come through occasionally. The various grassroots groups that have popped up and who are out to make a difference really are making a difference. The one that comes to mind right away is Beautify CNMI, as they have been very active, and have been getting good press coverage as a result. This group has come together as volunteers to clean up our island and to take it back, restoring it at least a bit to what it was. They have been planting trees and picking up trash all over the island. Some of the fruits of their labors will take a few years to be evident; it will take the trees several years to grow. But the amount of trash this group has picked up along our roads, on our beaches and in Garapan is absolutely staggering. I have seen many of the areas they have cleaned, and afterwards it really looks nice.

It is a sad commentary on our community that there is a need for a group like this to go around picking up trash, but it's something we've had a problem with for many years. It would be one thing if we could blame the whole problem on our tourists, and say that they just leave their waste and trash lying around. But that's not the case; our tourists seem to be very neat and tidy. Our problem is our local people who seem to think it doesn't matter that they just leave their garbage wherever they feel like. They just leave all their empty bottles, cans and plates all over the beach after their picnics. They throw their empty beer bottles in the Grotto when they're down there drinking and swimming. After all, they don't go diving, so they won't ever have to see them again. They could care less that it makes one of our top diving destinations look like a garbage can. They don't seem to think it's important what impression our tourists have. Our biggest problem is not our crooked and opportunistic politicians; it's our residents who have become pigs instead of the custodians of their own island and their home. They think it's somebody else's responsibility to pick up after them.

The administration has recently decided to get tough on litterbugs, and it's about time. They have in effect deputized people from many different departments, giving them the authority to go out and write tickets for littering. Littering can be anything from leaving your picnic waste on a beach, to throwing your empty cans and bottles in the jungle or the water, to throwing your cigarette butts on the ground when you're done with them. During the month of October, these newly deputized people will be going around warning those they catch littering, but then in November they are going to start getting serious about writing tickets for littering. Each fine is $200, so that pack of cigarettes might start becoming much more expensive if you don't dispose of your butts properly.

The problem with all of our laws here has always been enforcement. We have some pretty good laws on the books, but if we can't get the police officers off their backsides to write tickets, or people aren't actually prosecuted when they're cited, our laws become a joke. This means that everybody needs to start doing his or her part. The police officers and the litter control officers need to get serious about actually writing tickets. The Attorney General's office needs to get serious about actually prosecuting when laws are violated, and the judges need to start giving maximum fines instead of some of the ridiculous fines or sentences they have become accustomed to imposing. If people realize they have nothing to fear for breaking the law, they will have no respect for it, and will disregard it. It is a team effort to make our system work, and it requires that each person do the job they were hired or appointed to do.

In the meantime though, we still have a lot of cleaning up to do, and the Beautify CNMI team has designated October 20 as a day to make a difference. They are trying to get 1020 people to pitch in and volunteer at least one hour that day to pick up garbage, paint over graffiti, or cut weeds and spruce things up. Can you imagine the difference that many people could make? Can you imagine how much better our island will look as a result? October 20th is one of the government austerity holidays, so there should be a lot of people with some extra time on their hands that day. What could you do? Is there an area near your house or business that needs some cleaning up? Do you have something that could use a fresh coat of paint? I'd like to encourage you to look for a project that you can tackle on October 20th and be a part of the team that is making a difference on Saipan. If you'd like to become a part of the Beautify CNMI team, you can contact Tina Sablan at D.E.Q. or Angelo Villagomez. Congresswoman Kaipat and Congressman Waki are also very involved in the Beautify CNMI group, and I'm sure would be happy to give you any information you might need. You can also go online and check out their progress, or make a donation at www.beautifycnmi.org. You have the choice to either become a part of the solution or to be a part of the problem. If you are part of the problem, I honestly hope the litter control officer's track you down soon and write you a citation. Money tends to get peoples attention fairly quickly, especially when it's a large amount coming out of their pocket. If you want to be part of the solution, look for a project you can get involved in on October 20th and become part of the Beautify CNMI team.
Ruth Tighe says:
On a brighter note, the phenomenon of the Beautify CNMI! group continues to impress and amaze. It's like a spontaneous combustion - starting as an expression of concern among a handful of people, building up into an explosion - that continues to emit bright, powerful, far-reaching, light. Here's a group made up of individuals, non-profits, government agencies, private companies, schools, churches, organizations, with no structure, no formal organization, no official status, and it has managed to accomplish what no one else, no other organization, has ever achieved in the history of the CNMI.

It is planting hundreds of trees all over the island, regularly re-claiming tons of debris in an on-going beach and island clean-up campaign, conducting an on-going island-wide re-cycling campaigns targetting schools, homes and government offices, organizing an eyesore photo drive, finally putting teeth into the anti-litter law by training litter control officers and mounting a zero-litter-tolerance campaign; it has found a way to get rid of junk cars, developed an adopt-a-beach/adopt-a-road program, received funds to paint over island graffiti, put up a web page, carried on an extensive publicity campaign - and the list goes on and on.

The busy Beautify CNMI! Group, in addition to continuing its on-going projects, for the month of October is launching its adopt-a-beach/adopt-a-road campaign and its 10/20 clean-up project next week-end, will launch its zero├Żlitter tolerance program, tree propagation and re-cycling day in November, conduct a Beautify CNMI! Business award program and join in a Garapan Paseo Christmas tree decoration project in December, focus on coral reefs (more fish, less pollution) in January, on less graffiti in February, and in April, celebrate its one-year anniversary with an awards banquet.

Much of the credit for this remarkable achievement goes to founding spirits Congresswoman Cinta M. Kaipat, Tina Sablan of DEQ, Herminia Fusco, zoning board member, and the group's computer whiz, Angelo Villagomez of the Marianas Resource Conservation and Development Council. The active participation and support of Congressman Absalon S. Waki should also be noted. But that credit must be shared with the many others - far too numerous to mention here - who so generously give of their time and energy on a continuing basis to keep this movement alive - not only the planners and organizers but also those who scour the beaches and clean up tourist sites and dig the holes for the trees and perform all the other messy tasks that are involved. The entire community owes them all an enormous vote of thanks, appreciation, and support!
Thank you, Ruth, and thank you, Harry!

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