The House of Representatives passed yesterday a bill that authorizes the Department of Public Lands to issue licenses and use permits and charge fees for the use of the public lands located within 150 feet of the high water mark.
High water mark refers to the highest water stand reached by the lake or river, or highest level reached by the sea at high tide.
At a House session Tuesday, representatives adopted the House Committee on Natural Resources’ committee report that recommends the passage of the bill in the form of H.B. 22-31, HS1.
All 16 representatives present at the session voted “yes” to the passage of the legislation authored by Rep. Joseph Lee Pan T. Guerrero (R-Saipan). The bill now goes to the Senate for action.
Before the voting, House Committee on Natural Resources chair Rep. Sheila J. Babauta (D-Saipan) said this bill proposes to authorize DPL to issue encroachment permits.
“We did change the title to specify that this bill will only allow to be able to issue encroachment permits, and charge fees for the use of public lands located within 150 feet of the high water mark,” Babauta said.
She said the bill was a controversial legislation so she ensured that they held hearings on the bill on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota since last April. The committee also solicited comments from over 20 departments and agencies, and received comments from well over 20 community members, organizations, and public entities.
Babauta clarified that the changes that are proposed in this bill will allow DPL to charge for encroachment of existing structures only.
“This will not allow for the construction of new buildings by any new buildings or permanent structures by any businesses. This is only for public lands. And these are existing structures,” she said.
Babauta said at this time, the people of the CNMI are losing out on funds that they can be charging these businesses on existing structures and that’s because DPL has no authority to collect from these businesses. She said DPL’s authority is only to tell them to demolish the existing structures, that when it was built it was compliant with the law.
“Because of climate change and because of our shorelines now that we’re losing land, we are literally losing land because of climate change. And this is a good example of that,” Babauta said.
The chairwoman said many of the CNMI’s loyal and long-time businesses who had built structures at the time when the Commonwealth’s shorelines were beyond the 150 feet of the high watermark are now encroaching.
She said that’s the only changes that are being proposed by this bill.
“We did ensure that any of the encroachment permits that are granted will not interfere with the public’s access to these beaches and to these public spaces,” Babauta said.
The chairwoman pointed out that because it is important to her and to the committee that CNMI people still have access to these lands, the language is included in this substitute. Babauta thanked Guerrero for introducing this bill to finally address the issues that long-term businesses are experiencing and so that DPL can collect on these public lands.
“I am in support of this piece of legislation. I do encourage my colleagues to support this bill as well. And I’m ready to vote,” the lawmaker said.
Guerrero commended the Committee on Natural Resources for its tremendous work on this bill even though it was a House substitute bill.
“The chair really did an awesome addition on the bill and I salute her and the committee members,” Guerrero said.
He said he is hoping that the Senate would act on this bill.
The bill proposed that DPL may not transfer an interest, and may prohibit the erection of any permanent structure, in public lands located within 150 feet of the high water mark of a sandy beach, except that:
*DPL may authorize the construction of facilities for public purposes.
* DPL may grant a non-exclusive license or permit provided the use does not interfere with the public’s access to the property.