16 January 2014

Northern Mariana Islands ownership of its natural resources limited by U.S. monument, military control

Pacific Islands News Association

The CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) could end up controlling the 3-mile submerged lands around only nine of its 14 islands—at least in the foreseeable future—because three are part of a national marine monument that still doesn’t have a co-management agreement and two are leased to the U.S. Department of Defense.

This, as the CNMI awaits President Barack Obama’s proclamation transferring control over submerged lands to the CNMI.

Governor Eloy S. Inos, in an interview Friday, said his understanding is that the three northernmost islands—Farallon de Pajaros, Maug, and Asuncion—would be exempted from the transfer of control until a co-management agreement has been finalized.

Such co-management agreement has not been drafted five years since a 2009 presidential proclamation creating the marine monument.

“I think we’re fine with that except we’d like some finality on the co-management agreement,” Inos said, referring to a specific timeline for the co-management deal so that the CNMI could also have control of the submerged lands on the three islands.

Tinian and Farallon de Mendinilla, under lease to the U.S. military, are also exempted from the transfer.

The governor said a presidential proclamation is expected on or before Jan. 16, which he said is the statutory deadline by which the president must proclaim the transfer.

There’s no telling yet whether Inos would go to Washington, D.C. for any such proclamation. As of Friday, there’s no invitation for him from the White House.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and the governor separately confirmed the White House’s plan for a presidential proclamation transferring submerged lands to the CNMI, months after Obama signed Public Law 113-34 that conveys 3 miles of submerged lands to the Commonwealth.

At Sablan’s request, U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Lisa Murkowski introduced S. 256 or the submerged lands legislation that became law. It gives the CNMI control of the underwater coasts of its islands. The CNMI became the last U.S. coastal state or territory to own its offshore lands.