Senate Bill 20-35 intends to increase the term of public land leases up to 40 years plus and extension up to 15 years for a total of 55 years.
The properties where the existing hotels are built are private and public lands. The public land leases are to expire within two to three years, while the private lands still have 13 to 15 years’ lease remaining.
Many of the hotel owners are reluctant to negotiate with the Department of Public Land for the renewal of their land leases because they are not certain of the renewal of the privately-owned lands; they are uncertain if the private landowners would agree to renew their lease agreement or asking price for the renewal.
We have witnessed that the constitutional mandate of five or less years for existing leases to negotiate is too short for the hotel owners to finance additional improvements on the hotels, based on the appraisal value of the existing development on the occupied public land.
The attorney general has specifically stated that the intent of the bill does not violate any provision of the CNMI Constitution, specifically Article 11, Section 5 (c). As per the attorney general, “The amendments do not violate the NMI Const. Art. XI, § 5 (c), which prohibits the Marianas Public Land Corp. from transferring leasehold interest exceeding 25 years, because § 5 (c) is no longer constitutionally operative.”
Therefore, and accordingly, the Senate Standing Committee on Resources, Economic Development and Programs have strongly recommended to the full Senate for the passage of the bill. That’s the reason why I support of this bill.
The Mariana Resort and golf course is an example of public land lease situation. During its years of operation, it hired more than 100 Northern Marianas descent. Since BSI obtained the lease, there are less than 30 who are currently working. BSI has announced that it will not start construction of their project until 2023. The current situation is, BSI continues to extend Mariana Resort and golf course occupancy on a month-by-month rental. Most of the former Mariana Resort and Spa local employees are looking for jobs.
Inclusive of Mariana Resort and Spa, here are my additional concerns:
My office findings through inquiry on the number of NMD who will be affected by the demise of the public land lease with all the affected hotels are over 600. The multiplying factor of this number is almost 3,000 (employee, wife/husband and children). Will PSS be ready to provide them free meals?
Will they be able to purchase life insurance for their families and will the Department of Labor be ready to accommodate more than 600 clients?
We cannot allow for these families to line up at the food stamp and apply for Medicaid subsidy. It will be a disgrace on our part as elected leaders to just that.
Unlike other businesses that have closed their shops during the bad economic times, these hotels have been and continue to be with the Commonwealth during the good and bad times of our economy.
Let’s be realistic on my benefit here as an NMD. We must not allow for these hotels to close and punish those that are currently directly benefiting, including the entire Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Rep. Alice Igitol (R-Saipan) is a member of the 20th Legislature and chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources.