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NMI and US govt reach deal on submerged lands transfer

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The CNMI and the federal government have agreed on terms to transfer the title of the submerged lands around the northern islands of Maug, Farallon de Pajaros, and Asuncion, breaking the months of impasse in the negotiations over these terms.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres disclosed this in an interview with reporters yesterday on his second day back from a trip to the nation’s capital where he, among others, met with federal officials to discuss proposed terms that the CNMI had found disagreeable.

Some of the terms would have bound the CNMI to expend large amounts of capital and resources on management plans that federal authorities could ultimately reject, and would have allowed the federal government to enter the property to determine compliance with a conservation easement and revoke the grant at any time in the event that they determine the CNMI noncompliant.

Torres believes the recent communication has led to them covering this “gap” that he said needed to be addressed before” the sides moved forward.

“I believe we have come to an agreement that we will get the land back,” Torres said. “But the caveat is we won’t be obligated to do the management unless it is funded by U.S. Congress. We are waiting for the final report or proposal. But that is the agreement.

“They will transfer the title to us with a management [responsibility] based on funding availability,” he went on to say. “We want to close this up in the next several months.”

Torres said he, along with his chief of staff Matt Guerrero, spoke with Department of the Interior assistant secretary for Insular Affairs Esther Kia’aina, Eileen Sobeck, the head of NOAA Fisheries, and two of their legal counsels, over these terms in their meeting.

Torres said that the Interior was “requested to come in as a mediator, which worked out best for us.”

Torres called the agreement the “best option and opportunity for us to take back the land and work on the management portion provided that it is being funded.”

“We both agreed on what should be on the proposal. I am waiting for that draft to be given to me. And when that draft is given I will give that to our legal counsel and concur it with our attorney and then we will move forward,” he said.

Dennis B. Chan | Reporter
Dennis Chan covers education, environment, utilities, and air and seaport issues in the CNMI. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Guam. Contact him at dennis_chan@saipantribune.com.

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