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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lawmakers mull ideas on how to pay off land compensations

Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan), House Ways and Means chairman, said Wednesday that his committee will be asking from the departments of Public Lands and Public Works a list of projects or private lands that still need to be taken by the government for public purpose, even as some $100 million more in unpaid land compensation remains.

“Some of them are now under negotiation,” he said.

Sablan said in his view, one of the better sources of funds to be able to pay at least portions of the land claims is to tap future interest income from the Marianas Public Land Trust, which invests money earned from public land leases, among other things.

Rep. Antonio Benavente (Ind-Saipan), House Natural Resources Committee chair, separately said there have been suggestions to float another bond to pay off land claims.

“But this is just among a few lawmakers talking. We are continuing to look for ways to be able to pay the landowners,” he said, adding that both the Natural Resources and Ways and Means Committee will meet again to further discuss land compensation and related issues.

To scrap or not

Lawmakers are now also contemplating whether the government needs to scrap or reduce the unpaid land compensation’s 3 percent interest compounding every year.

Ramon S. Salas, DPL Land Claims Division director, said the 3 percent compounding interest raises the government’s total unpaid land compensation to $100 million.

Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan) doesn’t support removing the 3 percent interest because she said that would be unfair to those who have yet to get paid, while those who were already compensated for their land also got the interest payment.

Rep. Ralph Yumul (Ind-Saipan), for his part, said “it will be difficult to abolish the interest when certain landowners were paid last year with full interest.”

“As lawmakers we try to ensure equitable payment of land claims,” he said.

A Manglona family in Nang Ocha had 0.54 square meter of land taken and certified in June 2001 for road project still has to wait up to today for government compensation. For such a small portion of land taken, the government has yet to pay a penny for 13 years. Other families have yet to get paid for 1 square meter to 10 square meters of land taken several years back.

Kannat Tabla payments

DPL said Wednesday that four of the eight Kannat Tabla landowners who received payments from the government in 2013 under a 2008 local law had more lands taken by the government for right-of-way.

For example, the Pinaula family that got paid $67,085.27 in July 2013 had a total of 1,148 square meters land taken by the government, and not only 365 square meters, which is the first of four lots owned by the family, on DPL’s list. The Pinaula family’s four lots had sizes of between 5 and 458 square meters.

An Agulto family that received $31,414.85 in June 2013 had a total of 703 square meter lands taken, representing two lots—a 504 square meters and a 199 square meters.

Another Agulto family that was paid $30,741.11 in July 2013 had a total of 542 square meters of land taken, involving five lots—one is 504 and the other, 199 square meters.

Lastly, a Bowie family that was paid $2,492.15 in July 2013 had a total of 44 square meters of land, involving two lots.

DPL’s Salas said 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.

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