The Department of Public Lands said on Friday that the rules limiting how tourists from Managaha Island are picked up for parasailing and banana boat tours, among other commercial activities, have been in effect since Thursday, Nov. 29. Saipan lawmakers attempted to stop DPL once again from implementing the rules, at the request of marine operators, but to no avail because of a lack of quorum when they resumed session on Thursday.
“Rules are rules. It has been in effect since Thursday, Nov. 29. We thought it would take effect Friday, but when our legal counsel checked, the effective date was Thursday,” said Ray Salas, DPL's director of Land Claims and is currently the governor's nominee for DPL secretary.
Salas' temporary 90-day DPL secretary assignment expired in early November, so Pete Itibus is back to being acting DPL secretary.
Salas told Saipan Tribune that DPL has enough rangers on Managaha to enforce the regulations.
Representatives from marine sports operators, including Bill Owens and counsel Jennifer Dockter, reiterated the impact of DPL's new rules on marine sports operators, during the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation session on Thursday morning.
Owens and Dockter said marine sports operators will go back to court to sue DPL if it implements the rule.
At the time, lawmakers were keen on writing a letter to DPL or the Office of the Attorney General to stop the rule implementation during lengthy discussions.
But when the delegation resumed session in the afternoon, only 10 Saipan lawmakers showed up, falling short of at least one member to have a quorum.
Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan) said the delegation wants to tell DPL not to implement the rule until they have reached a compromise with marine operators, but he said later on that the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan), had already formally asked DPL not to implement the rule.
Palacios, in a separate interview, said if DPL does not hold off on its plan, “it will force legislators to amend the current law basically stripping DPL of its authority to promulgate the rules.”
House floor leader George Camacho (R-Saipan) said the plan was to write a letter to the Office of the Attorney General notifying it that legislation shall be forthcoming to address the issue.
Lawmakers expressed worry that marine sports operators would be forced to lose business, lay off employees, and fold up their business if DPL prohibits them from picking up tourists from Managaha for commercial activities they booked while they were on Saipan.
Palacios wrote a Nov. 20 letter to DPL's Ray Salas, but as of Friday, Palacios said he has yet to receive a response from DPL.
As House Natural Resources Committee chair, Palacios is asking a public hearing where oral testimony may be given, on the Managaha rule.
In his two-page letter, Palacios said the authority to promulgate regulations under the Administrative Procedures Act is a delegation by the legislature of its authority to enact legislation.
“The Legislature has never delegated the authority to promulgate regulations to the Department of Public Lands nor any of its predecessors. The Department of Public Lands has no authority to adopt the proposed regulations,” Palacios told Salas.
Palacios also said even if DPL had the authority to promulgate regulations, the Legislature can withdraw or modify that authority.
“In the event that regulations are adopted, the Legislature has the authority to amend or repeal regulations as it deems appropriate,” he added.
Palacios also raised concern about Salas's appointment as DPL secretary, which is pending Senate confirmation.
“To fully address these concerns, and other concerns the public may have, as chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, pursuant to 1 CMC 9104(a)(2), I am requesting a public hearing where oral testimony may be given,” he added.
Back in Oct. 26, the House was able to ask DPL to hold off implementing the rule on Oct. 29, so that parties can reach an agreement-marine sports operators, DPL, and its Managaha concessionaire Tasi Tours. A month later, the parties have not reached an agreement.
Rexford Kosack, legal counsel for Tasi Tours, said at the time that if the CNMI government has entered into a contract with Tasi Tours promising that Tasi Tours will have the exclusive right to parasailing and banana boating, “then Tasi Tours is entitled to that right.”