Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and his administration have okayed language of the transfer for the submerged lands of the Commonwealth’s northernmost islands from the federal government to the CNMI after reviewing the terms over the last month, and said they eye a public comment period on the deal “soon.”
The Torres administration held a conference call with Department of Interior and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials last Friday to signal approval of the terms, particularly a draft memorandum of agreement and patent for transfer.
The parties aim to have signed on to the terms to transfer the submerged lands by December of this year, Saipan Tribune learned.
“This is a positive development on this ongoing discussion with our federal government counterparts,” said Torres in a statement to Saipan Tribune. “Since hearing about the delay in negotiations over the transference of the submerged lands surrounding certain northern islands (Farallon de Pajaros, Maug, and Asuncion) I was keen on finding a resolution that is good for the CNMI and for the Federal government.
“While in D.C. [during a February trip] we met with NOAA and DOI officials to discuss our issues. They have been incredible partners in hearing our concerns and making adjustments to the plans. We are happy with the new arrangement and look forward to the next steps in finalizing this process,” Torres said.
The proposed MOA between the local and federal government covers a cooperative framework for coordination of the management of the submerged lands with conservation and protection of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument within these submerged lands.
The agreement defines the functional relationships, processes, and general terms and conditions that the governments will coordinate this management.
The agreement will have the federal government, specifically the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA, continue management responsibilities of the submerged lands once conveyed, until the CNMI government notifies in writing that they intend to assume all or a portion of management responsibilities.
Struck out in the new terms is the CNMI’s responsibility in managing the submerged lands, which Torres in January said would “bind” the local government to expend large amounts of capital and resources on management plans that federal authorities could ultimately reject.