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Northern Marianas could collect royalties and fees

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 12, 2008) – If allowed to retain management over its submerged lands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) government will derive some benefits from these resources, according to Joaquin P. Villagomez, Marianas Monument Advisory Council member.

Villagomez said he has joined Rep. Ralph DLG Torres, R-Saipan, in urging the U.S. Congress to pass Congressman Gregorio C. Sablan’s bill to grant the CNMI control over three miles of its submerged lands.

Speaking as a private citizen, Villagomez said if given this authority, the commonwealth can collect fees and royalties from commercial mining exploration in the area.

But he said the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf Acts needs to be amended so that the CMI can be included under the definition of "state" which will allow exploratory mining opportunities to begin.

Torres, in his letter to Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo, said although there are no mining activities now, there are companies like Neptune Minerals interested in commercial mining in the Northern Marianas.

"Present technological advancement in mining systems and the competitiveness of subsea minerals stimulated interests in commercial mining. Nautilus Minerals has been given extraction permits by Papua New Guinea at the Solwara fields within PNG EEZ," Torres told Bordallo, a member of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.

Torres is hoping that other members of Congress will support Sablan’s bill.

Villagomez said scientific research conducted by federal, state and international institutions over many years have identified potential mining resources around the Northern Marianas of manganese modules and high-grade seafloor massive sulphides, hydrothermal deposits, copper, zinc and lead with a high gold and silver content.

Sablan introduced the bill, H.R. 934, last month and it was discussed in a public hearing conducted by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, which is under the Natural Resources Committee.

Those who testified during the hearing endorsed the bill’s passage.

"This legislation supports our aspiration for local control of our submerged lands," Torres told Bordallo, who chairs the subcommittee.

Sablan noted the importance of the ocean to the people of the CNMI, saying that "the ocean surrounding our islands has been our highway for centuries; the ocean is what brought us to our islands. It provides our people sustenance. It heals us in many ways. It is always there for recreation. It is an important part of our economy. It is our only true natural resource."

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