• By Pacific island Times News Staff

CNMI government opens public lands for agricultural use

Saipan-- The CNMI's Department of Public Land will lift the moratorium on agricultural grazing permit for Saipan to pave the way for the conversion of idle public lands into grazing areas for livestock.

"Our goal is to maximize the use of public lands to benefit the community and it is also important during this time to increase food sustainability here on the island and reduce reliance on imported food,"DPL Secretary Marianne Concepcion-Teregeyo said.

DPL said it currently has 41agricultural grazing permits, which are scattered throughout the island, but mainly located in the Marpi area. DPL staff continue to identfy sufficient sites for livestock and cattle grazing around the island.

Grazing permits are temporary and are renewed annually provided that permittee is in full compliance with the terms and conditions of the permit including the agricultural grazing permit regulations.

Allotted hectares per applicant will vary due to type of livestock and any CNMI resident interested in raising livestock can avail of the agricultural grazing permit once the moratorium is lifted, the department said.

DPL designates areas of public land for subsistence farm plots.

In an effort to increase food sustainability on Saipan, DPL will make available over 200 farm plots, consisting of 1,000 square meters, to private individuals for "subsistence farming."

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This is a new program under DPL in an effort to help reduce our reliance on imported food as well as allow local residents to maximize public lands. These subsistence farm plots are temporary and renewable every year.

The DPL team saw the community's response as a result of the global pandemic when backyard gardening became a popular past time. This allows us to collect a minimal fee for smaller plots of land, while encouraging individuals to grow their own food. These subsistence farm plots are intended for cultivation of food crops.

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The department is encouraging cultivation of local sustainable food sources to reduce the CNMI's dependence of imported food sources.

The lots for subsistence were identified through Concepcion-Teregeyo's directive issued on May 15, which requires that the respective Divisions under Compliance Director Greg Deleon Guerrero, Planning Director Patricia Rasa, Homestead Director Irene Torres, Land Claims Teresita Guerrero and Real Estate Director Bonnie Royal review their land inventory listings and ensure that public lands that have not already been issued through a grant of public domain, grant of designation/assignment, homestead, lease are all accounted for.

These properties remain on the land inventory for NMDs and Directive 7 ensures that encroachers are charged a fee and are eventually evicted if they refuse to pay for the public land use. Directive 7 is a diligent effort to achieve accountability for all public lands.

Through Directive 7, DPL has identified 10 additional Saipan Village Homestead lots within existing subdivisions. The Planning Division was tasked with maximizing existing subdivisions such as Kagman areas, since water and power are already in place. The additional lots identified are corner lots that remain undesignated, for example, the corner curve along Kagman III.

Only people of Northern Marianas Descent are eligible for Village Homesteads, however a moratorium in accepting new applications has been in effect since 2006. During the start of this administration, in 2016, DPL had a total of 3,182 village homestead applicants for Saipan.

Today there are currently 2,148 pending applicants. This is a result of the diligent efforts of the Division of Homestead in issuing out revoked idle homestead lots, as well as determining ineligible homestead applicants that have land registered under their name. Another Saipan Village Homestead lottery is scheduled to be held this November.

Only people of Northern Marianas Descent are eligible for Village Homesteads, however a moratorium in accepting new applications has been in effect since 2006. During the start of this administration, in 2016, DPL had a total of 3,182 village homestead applicants for Saipan. Today there are currently 2,148 pending applicants. This is a result of the diligent efforts of the Division of Homestead in issuing out revoked idle homestead lots, as well as determining ineligible homestead applicants that have land registered under their name. Another Saipan Village Homestead lottery is scheduled to be held this November.

Our surveyors have worked hard all year to prepare over 300 agricultural homesteads between Tinian and Pagan and over 300 village homesteads in Saipan and the Department is continuously working with the legislature to address the need for infrastructure. We have four new 25-year commercial leases, one 40-year commercial lease, and one commercial lease renewal that all require public benefits. We have worked hard to redirect public benefits from leased public land to directly affect citizens of Northern Marianas descent. Our employees received WGI’s and have been given opportunities to travel for training this year. It has been three years since my appointment and in this small amount of time and we have upkept DPL’s constitutional mandates on remitting to MPLT. Since the creation of DPL in 2006, DPL has remitted a total of $21,549,384.39. From 2016 to current, we have remitted a total of $9,485,532.39. In 2019 alone, we have remitted $6,327,685.23 to the MPLT as a result of our financial audits for the benefit of NMDs. I want to extend my utmost appreciation to the Governor and Lieutenant Governor for my reappointment this year to continue to serve as the DPL Secretary and their continuous support, to the public lands advisory board for their counsel on behalf of their respective Mayors here in the CNMI and to the DPL staff as we continue to strive to put our public lands to its best use.

Public lands can be used for commercial or agricultural grazing permits. The following are various types of activities operated on public lands which include beach concessions, staging construction equipment, quarries, roadside vendors, vehicular parking spaces, using fallow land for agriculture farming or grazing and telecommunication towers:

In 2006, the homestead program was placed under moratorium for Saipan, which means that the Homestead Division is not accepting any new village and agricultural homestead applications in Saipan. With the assistance of the DPL Planning Division, there are proposed homestead areas that are still being cleared, surveyed and prepared for both village and agricultural lots throughout the CNMI. Saipan’s As Gonno area is the future homestead subdivision with over 300 proposed lots. In Rota, DPL has started surveying the Finafa area, and in Tinian, the selected subdivision for village homesteads is in Marpo Heights while over 300 agricultural lots are being cleared in Kastiyu. There are agricultural lots in the Northern Islands, specifically located in Regusa, Pagan, and amendments to PL 16-30 and 16-33 is currently with the CNMI legislature, and if passed, the Pagan lots will become available to eligible permittees. Although these homestead projects are already underway, infrastructure for these projects need to be funded from other sources due to Civil Action Case 84- 119, preventing DPL from allocating any revenue to creating infrastructure. DPL must look to the legislature for funding or a constitutional initiative to use DPL funds to pay for infrastructure. The homestead program procedures are heavily monitored by the Homestead staff to ensure that the permittees are in compliance with all regulations. The division’s standard operating procedures are always updated and followed to ensure compliance of the requirements.

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