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By Agnes Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, June 5) – The submerged lands bills currently pending in the U.S. Congress would entitle the Commonwealth to nothing but three miles of "coral, sand and gravel" and some liabilities, Attorney General Matthew T. Gregory said Friday.

Gregory said the proposed pieces of legislation granting the CNMI control over three miles of its submerged lands would bring no economic benefit to the islands.

"We’re not going to accept a flawed deal. In fact, the bill as currently drafted gives us nothing, almost nothing of value to the Commonwealth. We’re looking at a deal just like the territories are getting, which involves three miles ownership but it does not involve economic benefit from those three miles. We’re entitled to coral, sand and gravel in those one to three miles," Gregory said.

He made this statement in response to criticisms hurled by other CNMI government officials at the Fitial administration’s opposition to the U.S. submerged lands bills.

"There’s no economic benefit to the Commonwealth. In fact, if an entity is to come in and mine within those three miles, the federal government will be the beneficiary not the CNMI," Gregory said.

He maintained that the administration wanted a submerged lands deal closer to what the states are getting.

Unlike the territories, the states have the right to negotiate with investors interested in developing their marine resources. In addition, the states get a portion of the royalties and rental fees paid by developers to the federal government, Gregory said.

"We believe that the territories are entitled to the same deal as any state in the U.S. We believe we should not be discriminated against just because we’re a territory and not a state," he said.

Furthermore, Gregory said that the Commonwealth could earn liabilities, rather than benefits, from the proposed submerged lands law.

"If we support this kind of bill, we would end up with a situation that might be worse than nothing because we’re also charged with administering the one to three miles. We could have liabilities that result from having the rights to those one to three miles without having the rights to economic benefits," he said.

June 5, 2006

Saipan Tribune

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