Some two weeks after President Barack Obama signed a law conveying 3-mile submerged lands to the CNMI, the Commonwealth now has to formulate the regulations governing the use of these offshore lands, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) told Saipan Tribune.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos separately said in an interview that his administration will identify the appropriate department to formulate the regulations and enforce them.
“We might also want to pass a local statute to be able to fix agency responsibilities,” he told Saipan Tribune.
Sablan said regulations governing the use of submerged lands “are now the responsibility of the Commonwealth government, just as the governments of American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have responsibility for the submerged lands around those islands.”
The new submerged lands law gives the CNMI control of the underwater coasts of its 14 islands. The CNMI becomes the last U.S. coastal state or territory to own its offshore lands.
The new law also brings to focus once again the lack of a co-management plan in connection with the signing of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in 2009.
“Of course, we know from the Executive Branch testimony on S. 256, the bill the President signed into law, that there is concern that the Commonwealth and federal governments have not formulated their co-management plan for regulation of the areas around Maug, Uracas and Farallon de Pajaros in the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument,” Sablan said.
This arrangement for co-management was something former governor Benigno R. Fitial negotiated with former President Bush five years ago, the delegate said.
“I certainly encourage both governments to come to the table and follow through on their agreement. And I hope that the enactment of Public Law 113-34 will encourage them to do so, as soon as possible,” Sablan added.
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski introduced S. 256 or the submerged lands legislation, at Sablan’s request. A submerged lands bill was the very first bill that Sablan introduced as the CNMI’s first nonvoting delegate to Congress in 2009.
The governor said the CNMI may request more than 3 miles of submerged lands in the future.
“We have to do this one at a time. Maybe we can take a look at extending that for maybe another 3 miles or by 9 miles more for a total of 12 miles, but that’s going to probably be a very contentious issue because we’re looking at coastal states and territories having only the 3 miles. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the additional 9 miles either. We’re different. We’re surrounded by water,” he said. “But we would like to see what we can do with the 3 miles first then work from there.”