Kilili: Bill adds new condition before military can acquire land

The U.S. Defense Department is already barred from any major land acquisition anywhere in the United States without first getting specific approval by Congress and the President, enacted in law. But the military may soon face another hurdle. A provision in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act will require the Secretary of Defense to consult with the governor of the state or commonwealth where the land is located to consider all the options for locating military installations and activities before going to Congress for permission.

“Last year, the House passed this same requirement that the Secretary of Defense consult with the state or commonwealth governor when acquiring land, so that local officials are fully involved in those decisions,” said Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP).

“I took a close look, of course, because in the Northern Marianas we are all very sensitive about anything that has to do with the military and land.

“And I supported this provision last year, just as I support it this year.

“Because the more that the military is required to talk with local officials and look at all options, the better.

“In fact, after I included a requirement in report language for the 2014 Defense Authorization that the Secretary of the Air Force consult with the governor of the Commonwealth about the divert field location the military Air Force came up with the ‘hybrid’ option, which I understand the governor now has under consideration.

“Let me be very clear: The proposed consultation requirement in this year’s Defense Authorization adds to existing law. Nothing is revoked. U.S. law still requires that Congress and the President enact a law before there can be any major land acquisition.”

In addition, Covenant Section 806(b) also specifies that the U.S. will acquire no interest in real property in the Northern Mariana Islands unless authorized by Congress and unless Congress also appropriates funds for the acquisition, Sablan pointed out.

Sablan also said he thought it was very unfortunate that public officials would put out misleading and incorrect information.

“We all have valid concerns about the military buildup and the draft environmental impact statement. Right now we need cool heads in leadership, not alarmists.

“But anyone who takes the time to read 10 U.S.C. 2664 or Section 2812 of H.R. 1735, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, will see that the proposed addition to the law actually strengthens, and does not ‘undermine,’ the position of state and commonwealth governments, as was reported.

Sablan said it was also misleading to suggest that Defense Authorization language was a response to last week’s public meetings in the Commonwealth.

“People should know that the Northern Marianas is not the only place in the United States where there are concerns about the military acquiring land. It is happening in other places, too.

“That is why we in the House have been pushing to add this requirement to the law since last year. We want the Defense Department to work closely with local officials on land issues before coming to Congress to get final approval.” (Office of the Delegate)

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