After years of waiting for access road, Yigo residents given...land swap deal
By Clynt Ridgell
Published Oct 29, 2008
KUAM News has confirmed that Congresswoman Madeline Bordallo held a meeting this week between federal officials and the various families that own land in Urunao and Jinapsan. The reason was a proposed land swap that the original landowners aren't too happy about.
Families who own land on both sides of Ritidian Point - the Urunao side and the Jinapsan side of the Yigo area - have had land problems for decades now. The most recent problem deals with the families who own land on Jinapsan, a beachside property basically surrounded by Andersen Air Force Base property. The only way to get on is through the base and all the security checkpoints. After the terrorist attack that occurred on September 11, 2001 the Star Sand Resort, owned by one of the resident families, had to close because they could no longer bring customers on base to get to their beach resort.
Juan Flores's family used to own land in what is now the Ritidian Wildlife Refuge. He is also related to the families that own Urunao and Jinapsan. Congresswoman Bordallo says that after 9/11 landowners with businesses like the Star Sand Resort had to close down because of the stricter security on base. Since then she began working on a way to find another way to access the property the problem is that much of the properties are surrounded by what is called "native forest", a natural habitat that the federal government or fish and wildlife to be exact is trying to preserve.
This made it unfeasible to build the type of access road that the Jinapsan property owners wanted. Flores said, "Then the Fish and Wildlife people decided that, well, maybe we can swap land they're the ones who made this determination and they were the ones who selected this area. And it's a parcel of property in Urunao."
The local government, according to Bordallo, wanted for the Jinapsan land owners to swap land with those who owned land along the Urunao side of Ritidian Point. This is something the landowners didn't agree with. "These are all interrelated families, so the Jinapsan families are saying 'Why should we swap land?' when they also own part of Ritidian," said the delegate.
Bordallo says she knew that this swap wouldn't fly, but decided to call a meeting to get all the families together to try and resolve the situation. She says it would include the Air Force, Fish and Wildlife, and the Federal Highway Administration. These families have a deadline of December 3 to decide whether or not they want to swap properties. If they choose not to Bordallo says things will remain pretty much status quo although they will try to build some sort of access road.
"We did obtain $3 million for an access to the old property and we're going to try to do the Highway people that were present there said they were going to try to do something to build a maybe a kind of a temporary access into the properties," Bordallo continued.
But Flores countered, "Our big question is why, why was this thing initiated? To protect the dead birds?" He's not buying the reason given by the federal government - namely that Fish and Wildlife wants to declare the Jinapsan area as a critical habitat and give the owners there land at Urunao.
He has a different theory, saying, "The military is coming in and who knows? We're not dumb. Maybe they will turn Ritidian as part of their recreational beach area for the military, for their dependents. I don't want you to get me wrong, I don't mind the military here, but leave us alone. Leave our land alone. Give us back what we actually deserve. That's all we're asking for."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Chris Bandy stated that if land was exchanged, the Urunao critical habitat would be lifted and transferred to Jinapsan. He also said that it was merely an attempt by his agency to afford the landowners another way to run a business while at the same time protecting habitat for the endangered Micronesian Kingfisher, the Marianas Crow and the Fanihi.
Meanwhile, AAFB also commented, stating that they support the congresswoman's and other federal agencies' efforts to provide business opportunities for Jinapasan families. The Air Force added they have provided unrestricted access to these families for the last seven years.