Guam Commission To Vote On Trust Fund Rules

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Compensation for ancestral lands lost through gov takings

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, August 4, 2014) – After decades of attempts to compensate local families for land parcels that were condemned for public use since the 1930s, the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission plans to vote soon on rules for distributing cash payments from a trust fund.

The trust fund has more than $3 million in it; the amount grows as time passes and the cash distribution remains on hold.

The commission met on July 23 and, after a lengthy discussion, decided it's time to vote on the draft rules and regulations at its next meeting on Aug. 13.

A draft of the rules and regulations states eligible landowners will be issued a "yearly disbursement of funds, until such time the landowners reach the full compensation on the amount approved by the board for their land."

"It is anticipated that the Land Bank Trust Funds may not cover full compensation to the landowners on a short term period and that it may take more than five years to settle full compensation due to the anticipated number of landowners who may qualify for the funds," the draft states.

"The beneficiaries of the Land Bank Trust will include landowners ... who have lost their property by federal condemnation, or taking, on or after Jan. 1, 1930 and their ancestral land has not been returned to them," according to the draft rules.

In discussions at the commission's July 23 meeting, commission members agreed to limit the recipients to those whose lands were taken by the federal government, later handed back to the government of Guam, and which GovGuam decided to keep.

Expanding the scope and qualifications for the compensation recipients would further complicate and delay the process, commission members agreed.

After the commission votes to approve the rules and regulations, the document still will be subject to legislative public hearings and legislative changes, commissioners acknowledged.

Department of Land Management Director Michael Borja urged the commissioners to move forward, in part because the document still will be subject to legislative changes.

Previous commissioners in previous years had attempted to finalize and vote on the rules.

Land Management couldn't state how many might qualify. The window to file claims for the money remains open.

The department also was unable to provide an update as to how many have filed claims as of last week. The department estimates that estates or heirs could number in the hundreds.

The renewed efforts to finalize the rules and regulations followed Gov. Eddie Calvo's announcement on June 27 that the landowners will get paid.

"Justice took a while for the original landowners and their heirs," the governor said last month. "They've been waiting 20 years for the government of Guam to start compensating them for the land GovGuam took for its use. Now, we're closer to making payments."

While the commissioners agreed that it's time to hasten steps toward making the payments, they recognized at the July 23 meeting that determining who qualifies -- and for how much -- won't be easy.

Cash disbursements will be pro-rated based, in part, on the size of land a family has lost and how many claimants will be eligible for payments.

For example, if the eligible claims add up to 4 million square meters of land, and a certain family's land represents 2.37 percent of the total $4.2 million available, that one family will be paid close to $100,000, the draft states.

An ancestral landowner who talked to commissioners at their recent meeting, Catherine Flores McCollum, said her family's property at Ritidian had been valued at $2 billion. A former Ancestral Land commissioner, McCollum questioned whether there will be enough money to compensate just her family alone.

That Ritidian valuation occurred at the time of Guam's hotel development boom nearly two decades ago, when a hotel resort was proposed at Ritidian before the area became a federal government-run wildlife refuge.

Mixed feelings

Tiyan land claimant Benny Crawford, whose family is among dozens of family estates who hold claims to land where the A.B. Won Pat International Airport Guam's buildings and runway sit on, have mixed feelings about the recent announcements to disburse cash to local landowners. Crawford is a spokesman for a group of Tiyan families who owned almost 1,000 acres of Tiyan property now under control by the Guam airport agency.

"There's always hope," Crawford said.

At the same time, he said he feels sad for families whose hopes have been raised; only to be dashed when no payments will be made in the near horizon.

He's not anticipating immediate payments because of the complexity of determining who are eligible to receive the payments and how much the payments would be.

Crawford said his family recently retained a law firm, San Francisco-based Girard Gibbs, to represent their interests in the land compensation issue.

Tiyan families' hopes were raised as early as in the 1980s, and then in the 1990s and as recently as several years ago, Crawford said.

Crawford's group was able to get the previous administration, under then-Gov. Felix Camacho, to agree to give them a comparable-sized land exchange -- off Route 15 -- for their Tiyan land.

But that land exchange agreement remains tied up in the Superior Court where another group of landowners filed a challenge, Crawford said.

He believes the issue will continue to be unresolved for months, if not years, and urged local families to weigh carefully on their choices for the next set of elected leaders.

Guam faces a General Election in November.

Many landowners have died waiting for a resolution on the compensation issue, said Crawford, whose late father was still alive when it was initially debated.

His group of Tiyan landowners started out with a good number of original claimants, Crawford said.

"Now, I'm one of the youngest, and I'm gonna be 69. Our parents have passed away," Crawford said.

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