Records Show 138 CNMI Landowners Compensated

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Amounts paid to claimants questioned by lawmakers

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 16, 2014) – Some CNMI landowners got paid anywhere between $100,000 and $4.4 million each in exchange for the government’s taking of their property for public roads, ponding basin and wetlands, documents obtained by Saipan Tribune show. But while other families got hundreds of thousands or millions, an estimated 300 more landowners have yet to see even a penny after years or decades of waiting.

The government paid 138 landowners a total of almost $28.5 million, with the money coming from a $40 million bond that was floated supposedly to pay land claims, Department of Public Lands (DPL) records show.

The remaining $11 million went to the construction of an adult prison in Susupe.

The latest partial payment was made to landowner Luisa Quitugua, amounting to $1,838.95, in addition to a $10,000 payment in November 2012.

Over $4.410 million was paid to the "heirs" of a Kaipat matriarch for 5,607 square meters of land for a road project. The claim was certified in 1992.

The second highest payment, based on DPL records, is $3.45 million that went to the "heirs" of a Maliti patriarch for the Marianas High School campus. DPL records don’t show the land area and the date of the certification.

A Cabrera family received an over $2.768 million payment for 11,815 square meters of public lands in Chalan Piao for a wetland project. That claim was certified in 1991.

Sablan Enterprises Inc. got over $2.645 million for five different lots in As Lito, Chalan Piao, and Puerto Rico for roads and sewer treatment projects. The claims were certified between 1990 and 1992.

An Ichihara family got paid over $2.096 million in exchange for 22,664 square meters of land in San Vicente for a ponding basin. The claim was certified in year 2000.

Shedding light

Rep. Antonio Benavente (Ind-Saipan), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the DPL list sheds light on where the $28 million payments went.

Benavente said the committee will continue to go over the records.

He said his committee, along with the Ways and Means Committee, will also be asking DPL to provide a list of landowners with claims that remain unpaid.

House vice speaker Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan) has also asked both committees to seek such list of unpaid claims from DPL.

Both Dela Cruz and Benavente said they would also like to find out why others got paid so much more than the rest, while others were not even paid a penny.

Dela Cruz said the government should strive for a "proportionate" distribution of funds for land claims.

The vice speaker said "politics of the past" played a part in the disproportionate or the lack of payment for landowners.

A Sablan family received more than $1.958 million for the government’s use of their 20,892 square meters of land in Chalan Laulau for a wetland. The claim was certified in 1991.

For their 34 square meters of land in Afetna used by the government for a road project, a Palacios family got paid over $1.927 million, and that was for a claim certified in 1995.

A Nicholas family was paid over $1.166 million for 9,461 square meters of Fina Sisu property for a wetland. The claim was certified in 2000.

Hundreds of thousands

At least 28 landowners got paid anywhere between $100,000 and $760,000-plus.

Among them was a Tenorio family whose 1,229 square meters of property in Dandan was used for a ponding basin and got paid $126,500 for it. The claim was certified in 2003.

Another Tenorio family, whose claim was also certified only in 2003, was compensated $300,000 for two lots totaling 2,921 square meters in Dandan. That was also for a ponding basin.

Two other lots in Dandan, this time belonging to a Camacho family, were also used for a ponding in exchange for $760,032.57. That claim was certified also in 2003, involving 7,384 square meters of land.

Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan), House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said that based on his understanding, there is supposed to be priority category when it comes to who gets paid first—right-of-way (road), ponding basin, and wetland.

"But records provided show that that was not necessarily followed," Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

Eleven payments were for ponding basins, and three were for wetlands. A few were for parking space. Most were for roads or right-of-way.

On Tuesday, the House Committees on Ways and Means and Natural Resources brought together department heads to shed light on the land compensation program. They also invited landowners, many of whom claim they have not received any payment from the government in exchange for their property.

Smallest amounts

The smallest amount paid throughout the years is $482.76 for an Ichihara family in Afetna for the government’s 1999 taking of 4 square meters of property as part of a road project.

This is followed by a payment of $1,927.59 to a Palacios family, also in Afetna, for a 1995 road project.

At least 18 landowners got paid less than $10,000.

The CNMI government’s land compensation program began in 1978, many of them for right-of-way or road projects.

Tinian, Rota

Out of 138 landowners that have received payments, only one was for a Tinian property and 18 on Rota.

Based on DPL records, the only paid land claim on Tinian belonged to a Quichocho family involving 148 square meters for $23,369.51, for a road project. The claim was certified in 2004.

On Rota, the payments for lots used by the government ranged from $4,317.30 to $183,369.69.

Many of the Rota land compensations involved those for use of the Northern Marianas College’s Rota campus.

Lawmakers said the task at hand is to come up with revenue-generating measures to help pay land claims. Pending bills and initiatives are also under review to help set aside funds for these land claims, including using interest incomes on public land-related investments.

The Legislature is supposed to appropriate funds for land compensation.

DPL said there’s over $83 million in unpaid land claims on Saipan alone, although this figure is subject to further review. There’s also over $20 million in unpaid land claims for Rota.

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