Obama Expected To Transfer Submerged Lands To CNMI

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Lawmakers confirm White House plans for Presidential proclamation

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 6, 2014) – Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and Gov. Eloy S. Inos separately confirmed the White House’s plan for a presidential proclamation transferring submerged lands to the CNMI, months after President Barack Obama signed Public Law 113-34 that conveys 3 miles of submerged lands to the Commonwealth.

Exempted, however, are those immediately around U.S. military-leased areas, Inos said, referring to Farallon de Mendinilla and Tinian.

Inos said his administration is having conversations with the U.S. Department of Defense with respect to submerged lands.

The governor also discussed the issue of submerged lands with respect to the northernmost islands that are part of the Marine National Monument.

"I want to see how that thing unfolds. We’re going to be communicating with the White House in the next day or so. There is a planned presidential proclamation transferring the submerged lands to the CNMI with some exceptions and the exception is those adjacent waters, immediately around the military-leased area," he said.

While the CNMI has access to these areas even with a lease with DoD, Inos said the activities are limited because DoD "can go back and assert authority over those surface waters."

"But what we want is to continue to have use of it. Hopefully, in the end, submerged lands in those areas will be transferred under direct control of the CNMI but we can utilize that for economic reasons. We don’t know of any development that might come up that would require offshore projects on those areas and we don’t know if there are minerals within that area," the governor added.

Sablan separately said that subsequent to U.S. Public Law 113-34’s signing, he wrote to the governor suggesting that the CNMI consult with appropriate federal departments for the transfer of the 3-mile territorial sea and submerged lands to the Northern Marianas.

"I am aware that there are ongoing consultations and we can expect that a presidential proclamation will shortly effectuate the transfer. And while the congressional office is sometimes briefed about the consultation, we are not parties in the discussions," Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

But he said there is common understanding that there would be a short-term withholding of conveyance of the water and land surrounding the island units in the marine monument while co-management plans are worked out.

"As to the sea and lands adjacent to Department of Defense leased areas, I have no direct knowledge of whether some agreement has been reached between the parties," he added.

At Sablan’s request, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski introduced S. 256 or the submerged lands legislation that became law. It’s the same law that delayed the CNMI’s 50-cent minimum wage increase for 2013 and 2015.

Meanwhile, CNMI Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan) introduced a bill that the Senate later passed, empowering the Department of Lands and Natural Resources to manage, use, and dispose of submerged lands off the Commonwealth’s coast.

The new submerged lands law gave the CNMI control of the underwater coasts of its islands. The CNMI became the last U.S. coastal state or territory to own its offshore lands.

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