DPL pays land compensation to 13 claimants; more on the way

(Department of Public Lands) — The CNMI government, pursuant to P.L. 19-87 and under the leadership of Gov. Ralph D.L.G. Torres and the Department of Public Lands, paid 13 claimants whose properties were acquired for right-of-ways for primary roads across the islands decades ago.

DPL estimates that it would cost $85 million to compensate all existing claims. Among these claimants, five were fully compensated and eight were partially paid. Claimants partially paid were given 18 percent of the total owed to them, respectively, in an effort to maximize the number of claimants to be compensated. Most claimants have waited over 20 years to receive full or partial payment and interest on their claims are costing taxpayers much more in interest than the principal amounts.

P.L. 19-87 appropriated $3 million for the purpose of settling land compensation claims for primary roads; however, this is not sufficient to settle all other pending claims. Secretary of Finance Larissa Larson assures that the funds appropriated by P.L. 19-87 are available for disbursement to claimants and payments will be processed as soon as the Department of Public Lands and the attorney general certify that documents for each claimant are complete and the appropriate payment amounts. The last time payouts to claimants were made was August 22, 2013 when a total of $171,931.72 was paid to eight private land owners pursuant to Saipan Local Law 16-1, as amended.

DPL’s Land Claims Division is responsible for managing the land compensation program created by Public Law 13-17 which includes a comprehensive method of processing claims and disbursing monetary compensation to landowners whose lands were taken by the CNMI for public purposes such as right-of-way, ponding basins, wetlands, etc. DPL itself, however, is restricted from paying claims with operational funds because all revenue less operational expenses must be remitted to Marianas Public Land Trust; therefore, funds for monetary compensation must be appropriated by the Legislature.

In the past, letters to execute payments were sent to claimants without having the necessary supporting documents such as appraisal reports — a basis for valuating property and an integral part of the process for land compensation. DPL has adjusted this practice by ensuring all appraisals are obtained and all required documents are submitted. Appraisals can be prepared to get the retroactive value to the date the land was taken. For example, the value of land parcel taken in 1992 can still be appraised today to get its value in 1992 because appraisers are able to review comparable land sales and values during in or after 1992 — these land transactions are filed with the Commonwealth Recorder’s Office.

Through an RFP process, DPL awarded LBT the contract to provide land appraisal services for 32 properties in Saipan and Rota that were acquired by the CNMI Government for primary roads. DPL is preparing a second RFP to appraise an additional 32 properties in Saipan. DPL will use the valuations derived from the appraisals to determine the land compensation amounts which will serve as the basis for requesting additional appropriations from the Legislature.

“It remains the priority of the administration to continue to settle all pending claimants requesting for monetary compensation. Under this administration, we have seen unprecedented economic growth that has allowed our department to work towards addressing these longstanding claims. We are heartened that Governor Torres has made this a personal priority,” Secretary of Public Lands Marianne Concepcion-Teregeyo said.

In a statement, Governor Torres said the payment of longstanding obligations will allow the CNMI to further address government debts in the near future and fulfill what is rightfully owed to residents who have waited for many years.

“I, along with the Legislature, will maintain our commitment to address the remaining land compensation claims on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. My administration, the Legislature, along with Secretary Concepcion-Teregeyo and her team at DPL, are working to fulfill payments to all land claimants to ensure that our Commonwealth is in a better financial situation in the long term.”

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Source: Marianas Variety :

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