Gov. Eloy S. Inos has acknowledged that the U.S. military can indeed use the option of eminent domain to acquire more lands in the CNMI, and that the Commonwealth should opt to discuss these proposed leases “more openly.”
“I’m concerned that we do not discuss this more openly with the military,” Inos said.
The governor said that the bottom line is that the U.S. military and federal government “have the power” and the right to exercise this power.
He said he supports discussions on the land lease “but we want them (military) to initiate it.”
“So far, the military has been making suggestions on their requirements on more land,” Inos said.
He said he will meet with military top brass toward the end of the month to discuss the overall military activities in the CNMI.
Inos said the issue of land use, and 902 consultations “might also be thrown in” during the meeting.
Department of Public Lands Secretary Pete A. Tenorio reiterated that the Legislature has the right to say “no” to discussions, and that there should an “open and balanced” discussions with the military.
Tenorio said the CNMI is not even on the stage of discussing how many years or how much land will be leased, yet proposed legislation seem to be “closing opportunity.”
On Tuesday, CNMI Attorney General Edward Manibusan gave a written opinion saying that the U.S. military can still acquire lands in the Commonwealth even if a bill is passed to prohibit the CNMI’s Department of Public Lands from entering into leases with the military.
Manibusan gave the opinion during a public hearing on Senate Bill 19-42, which was introduced by Sen. Arnold Palacios (R-Saipan) to prohibit the lease of public land for live fire and bombing exercises.
It would also require leases of public lands for other military activities to be approved by two-thirds majority of registered voters.
According to the Manibusan, S.B. 19-42 “adequately restrains the DPL from leasing public lands to private actors for military purposes, but the determination of whether it effectively prevents live fire and bombing exercises by the U.S. requires an analysis of other laws.”
According to him, the CNMI Legislature can prohibit DPL from leasing out the land. “However, the federal government is not required to follow laws established by its political subdivisions. Therefore, this bill would only prevent the DPL from entering a prohibited lease. It would not restrain the U.S.”
So if DPL and U.S. government enter into a lease that violates this bill, the Commonwealth would only be able to sue its own department, the AG added.
Also, the measure does not restrict other methods of transferring land, such as purchase or land exchange, he pointed out.
Manibusan added that there are other methods of transferring land, and one is through the “eminent domain” process.
The bill as proposed also seeks to put military leases of public land to be submitted to the public for approval but Manibusan said this raises the question of who would be allowed to vote on this.
DPL’s Tenorio also earlier said the bill is “unnecessary because the Legislature already has the obligation and duty to approve and disapprove certain leases per Article 11 of the Constitution.”
Tenorio said this section requires the Legislature’s approval in a joint session for all leases of public lands that the more than 5 hectares.
Tenorio said with or without S.B. 19-42, the Constitution still requires the Legislature to first approve it for it to take effect.
The DPL chief further said one problem he sees is that “we don’t know what the U.S. is willing to pay,” and that “we would never know what is being offered unless discussion are conducted aimed at establishing some kind of fair market value for public lands that the military would be interested in leasing, such as Pagan, in its entirety or portion of it.”