CNMI Governor: DC Talks See Progress On Submerged Lands

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Torres lauds agreement on co-management, funding still uncertain

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 2, 2016) – Governor Ralph D.L.G. Torres on Tuesday said his recent trip to Washington, D.C. bore some positive results, adding that he was able to convey CNMI concerns regarding various critical issues including submerged lands and 902 consultations.

He said his administration and federal authorities came up with an agreement on submerged lands.

"We agreed that they will be doing the management and, upon availability of funds, they will revert the property to us," the governor said.

"That was the negotiation that we had, but the biggest issue is funding the management [of submerged lands]," he said.

"We agreed that if funding is appropriated by the U.S. Congress, we will work together on management — it will be co-management and we will be working with [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]."

Torres said the goal of his administration is to finalize the agreement and to resolve the issue regarding the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

"This is good for all of us because we will be able to close the gap caused by misunderstanding and lack of communication. Overall it is an excellent opportunity," Torres said, referring to the proposed agreement.

902 talks

Regarding the 902 talks with President Obama’s representative, Torres said the CNMI team will include former Department of Public Lands Secretary Pete A. Tenorio, who is now the governor’s senior policy adviser.

A member of the Marianas Political Status Commission, Tenorio was on the CNMI team in previous 902 talks when he was still the lt. governor.

"We should be having a favorable response [from the federal government] in a couple of months," Torres said. "In the next couple of months we should have the scope of work on how the 902 talks will be formulated."

He said he mentioned the subject to President Obama during a meeting in the nation’s capital.

"We are ready," Torres said. "I haven’t officially appointed [my] representative yet, but Pete A. will be a consultant because he has the institutional knowledge of the process. I know that some individuals in the community as well as businesspersons and legislators are interested [in being on the CNMI team]. We will look into it very closely once we get the guidelines."

The 902 talks are described in Section 902 of the Covenant which allows the federal and commonwealth governments to hold consultations on matters affecting their relationship.

While in Washington, D.C., Torres said he was also able to thank the American Red Cross for all the assistance it provided the people of Saipan following Typhoon Soudelor.

He said he likewise met with National Weather Service officials.

"I did ask if we could have our own weather station because while what was disseminated [by the NWS] on the evening of Sunday [Aug. 2, 2015] was that there would be winds gusting from 90 to 200 miles per hour by 10 p.m., the actual figure was from 90 to 280 miles per hour. So it’s critical that we have our own weather station here," Torres said.

He said he did not discuss military issues with federal officials because he is directly communicating with Lt. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, the armed forces’ point of contact.

"But I did echo the concerns we have regarding the Endangered Species Act and our coral reefs that are vital to our livelihood and why we should take care of them," the governor said.

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