Co-Management Plan For CNMI Monument Yet To Materialize

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Commonwealth awaits communication from U.S.

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 30, 2014) – Almost four months since President Barack Obama signed a proclamation temporarily withholding the transfer to the CNMI of submerged lands around five islands that are either part of a national marine monument or under lease to the U.S. military, the CNMI has "not received any formal communication as to a co-management agreement" that would eventually allow the Commonwealth to have control over the remaining submerged lands, said Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Arnold Palacios.

"That co-management plan could drag on because there is no specific timeline. It’s an open-ended timeline. Remember that Gov. Inos and the Legislature asked for a 180-day timeline to come up with a co-management plan but this was not considered? So years could pass without anything. The CNMI won’t be able to control the 3-mile submerged lands around the island units of the marine monument in a long time," Palacios told Saipan Tribune.

As of this week, his office has not heard from any federal agency about the co-management plan.

"We have to begin discussion. But I’m surprised there’s not even a formal communication from the Interior or U.S. Commerce in response to the governor’s request for a co-management plan and timeline. At the very least, they should have acknowledged the governor’s concern," Palacios added.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) also earlier pressed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to "speed up" the co-management agreement governing federal and CNMI submerged lands in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Obama exempted from the transfer to the CNMI the control of submerged lands around Farallon de Pajaros (Uracas), Maug, and Asuncion, which are part of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, as well as Tinian and Farallon de Medinilla that are under lease to the U.S. military.

The governor and the Legislature asked for a firm 180-day timeline to come up with a co-management plan, among other things, but the Obama administration did not consider this.

The delegate had said after signing over the oil, gas, and mineral rights around the CNMI to the Commonwealth government that the next step for Interior is to complete a co-management agreement with the Commonwealth for the submerged lands in the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. The Interior secretary responded that she has already directed Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service to complete an agreement.

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