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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Interest raises unpaid land claims to $100M
Governor among over 300 landowners waiting payment

A 3 percent interest compounded yearly is raising the CNMI government’s unpaid compensation to some $100 million for more than 300 families whose lands were taken to build public access roads, wetlands, and ponding basins years ago, records obtained by Saipan Tribune on Monday and Tuesday show.

Many of these lots ranged in size from only 1 square meter to close to 7,000 square meters.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos, based on government records, is among the over 300 landowners still waiting for land compensation as a result of the government’s taking of their private property for public use.

Inos has 31 square meters of private land in Kannat Tabla that the government took for right-of-way or public access road. The government certified the acquisition of the land on Sept. 26, 1996, long before Inos became a lieutenant governor or governor.

“Yes I am also waiting,” the governor told Saipan Tribune in an interview at a proclamation signing yesterday morning.

Eight landowners also in Kannat Tabla got compensated last year for amounts ranging from $1,374.98 to $67,085.27, under Saipan Local Law 16-1.

Some families—including the Faligs in Chalan Savana or Wireless on Saipan—had to wait for over a decade to get compensated by the government for only 1 square meter of property taken for public road access.

DPL records show that close to 200 Saipan landowners are still waiting for government compensation for road or right-of-way projects as of 2013.

Smallest land taken

A Manglona family in Nang Ocha has the smallest land taken by the government at 0.54 square meter, certified in June 2001, for road project. For such a small portion of land taken, the government has yet to pay a penny for 13 years.

Other families are also waiting for decades to get paid for the government’s taking of 2 to 10 square meters of their property; some of them since 1993.

While these land sizes are too small compared to the hundreds and thousands of square meters taken from other landowners, they also incur a 3 percent per annum compounding interest.

3-percent interest

Ramon S. Salas, Land Claims Division director at the Department of Public Lands, said yesterday that the 3 percent compounding interest raises the government’s total unpaid land compensation to $100 million.

He said the principal amount is only a fraction of that.

The governor also pointed to the accrued interest yearly, on top of the lack of funding for the principal amount owed.

“Part of the problem too is these judgments, these claims accrue interest at a rate higher than what you would normally earn if you put your money in a time deposit in the bank so that inflates the [government] obligation,” Inos said.

Based on DPL records, for example, a Pinaula family in Kannat Tabla was paid $67,085.27 in July 2013 for 365 square meters of their land that the government took for public road access right-of-way. Over $28,000 of the amount they received is for the 3 percent annual compounding interest alone, and the principal amount was only $39,032.

An Echaluse family who was originally owed only $800 for 25 square meters of land in Kannat Tabla ended up receiving $1,374.98 from the government in June 2013.

The bigger the land size and the greater the principal amount, the larger the 3 percent compounding annual interest becomes.

Based on DPL records, the earliest date when the government certified the taking of land from a Palacios family in Gualo Rai for right-of-way purpose was in November 1988.

Breakdown

DPL’s Salas also said that based on the department’s records, there are 191 Saipan private landowners still waiting to get paid for the government’s taking of their property for road or right-of-way purpose, while 12 are for ponding basin on Saipan, 25 for wetlands also on Saipan, and 105 on Rota for right-of-way or road projects.

“The question is whether we should continue the 3 percent compounding interest? To be fair, the department has been continuing that. It’s unfair for those who have not been paid yet to lose the 3 percent, when those who already got paid got the 3 percent interest. The former Marianas Public Lands Authority board decided to grant the 3 percent interest per annum but it’s not based on law. We are still discussing this,” Salas said.

DPL has listed by Saipan villages the names of landowners still waiting for compensation for lands used for right-of-way or public access roads.

The 14-page list includes lands taken in Achugao, Afetna, San Vicente-Airport Road, As Lito, As Mahetog, As Perdido, As Teo, Beach Road-Garapan, Capital Hill, Chalan Galaide, Chalan Kanoa-Susupe, Chalan Kanoa, Chalan Kiya, Chalan Lau Lau, Chalan Monsignor Guerrero, Chalan Pale Arnold, CPA-Phase VI, Chalan Savana or Wireless, Dandan, Fina Sisu, Gualo Rai, I-Denni, Iiyan, Kannat Tabla, Nang Ocha, Navy Hill, Papago, Sadog Dogas, Sadog Tasi, San Vicente, South Garapan, Talofofo, Tapochau, and Texas Road.

The largest private land taken—6,978 square meters—that the government has yet to pay belongs to the heir of a Diaz matriarch in Chalan Monsignor Guerrero. The government certified the land taking in October 1990.

The government has yet to pay a Tenorio family for 6,385 square meters of land in San Vicente-Airport Road. The DPL list does not state when the government certified the taking for this particular land.

‘Priority among priorities’

The governor separately said yesterday that paying land compensation “is a priority among other priorities.”

Just like his predecessor, Inos has been receiving letters from families notifying the administration of their plan to block public access roads if their demand for at least a portion of their land compensation is not paid.

“I hope it doesn’t go there, that would be civil disobedience. We are trying. The Legislature is equally responsible for this. The issue is not really complicated. It’s just trying to find the source of funding,” he said.

Members of the House Ways and Means and Natural Resources Committees met last week with dozens of families who are still waiting for land compensation. They also called in government agency heads such as Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas, Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson, Public Works Secretary Martin Sablan and DPL’s Salas.

Based on earlier records obtained, the CNMI government paid families anywhere between $100,000 and $4.4 million each in exchange for the taking of their property for public roads, ponding basin, and wetlands. This, even as over 300 other families have yet to see even a penny after years or decades of waiting.

In all, the government paid 138 landowners a total of almost $28.5 million, with the money coming from a $40 million bond that was floated supposedly to pay land claims. The remaining $11 million went to the construction of an adult prison in Susupe.

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