‘MPLA violated endangered species laws’

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Posted on Feb 15 2006

The Fitial administration has accused the Marianas Public Lands Authority of violating federal and local laws protecting endangered species.

The administration produced documents yesterday showing that MPLA conveyed an As Gonno lot to a land exchange participant without informing the grantee that the land was an endangered species habitat.

MPLA was aware of the environmental restriction.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife, in an April 15, 2003 letter, had informed MPLA that the lot served as habitat for nightingale reed-warblers, locally and federally endangered birds.

DFW had also asked MPLA to advise the designee that the habitat would need to remain as it was in order to avoid an illegal taking of the birds, or the new landowner must apply with the federal government for a permit in order to clear the land, destroy the habitat, or otherwise harass the endangered species.

Despite DFW’s advice, however, MPLA conveyed the land to Ignacio DLG. Demapan on July 28, 2003. The land served as compensation for Demapan’s property that was taken by the government for infrastructure improvement projects.

The land exchange deed did not provide for any restriction regarding the habitat.

DFW subsequently found that Demapan had completely cleared the area without proper notification to Fish and Wildlife. The environmental agency issued a notice of violation on June 19, 2004 and assessed a $5,000 civil penalty against Demapan.

Demapan then hired attorney Ramon K. Quichocho to represent him in DFW’s administrative action. The case was later dismissed and referred for federal prosecution.

On Nov. 26, 2004, Demapan and another grantee, Jose T. Sablan, submitted a claim for land compensation for the exchanged properties. The claimants said they had not been able to utilize the lands because of the presence of the endangered birds.

Besides accusing MPLA of disregard for environmental laws, the administration also noted a conflict of interest on the part of Quichocho. The attorney, who the administration noted was representing Demapan in the land compensation claim, was at the same time working as a lawyer for MPLA.

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