Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Monument bid rekindles submerged lands issue

Wednesday, 22 October 2008 00:00 By Emmanuel T. Erediano - Variety News Staff

THE controversial marine monument proposal has reminded indigenous residents about the issue of the CNMI’s submerged lands which the federal court says belongs to the U.S. government.

Independent congressional delegate candidate Juan T. Lizama believes that the CNMI “can still seek redress from the U.S. Congress and regain some of our submerged lands.”

The retired judge said he also hopes that the marine monument supporters agree that the submerged lands issue must be settled in U.S. Congress first before any decision on the monument proposal is made.

He said the Pew Group’s monument campaign has “touched many unresolved questions concerning the CNMI’s rights over our submerged lands and exclusive economic zone.”

Lizama said the federal court has already decided that the CNMI lost ownership of its submerged lands when its Covenant with the U.S. was ratified by local voters and enacted into law by the federal government.

But, he added, the CNMI congressional delegate can urge Washington, D.C. to revisit the submerged lands issue.

Lizama noted the mistrust generated by “what seems to be an undue haste in pushing the marine monument before the people of the CNMI are comfortable with it.”

James L. Connaughton, chairman of White House Council on Environmental Quality, told lawmakers on Monday that the federal government is very aware of the CNMI submerged lands issue.

Lizama said if he is elected delegate, he would immediately request the U.S. president and Congress not to take action on the marine monument until the issues on the CNMI’s submerged lands and exclusive economic zones are resolved.

“I would then work with Congress to resolve the CNMI’s submerged lands issue and simultaneously negotiate the details of our economic zone,” he said. “After we have completed those issues, I would then work with Pew to help establish marine monument to preserve our islands’ beauty, native species and our culture for future generations. We must jointly be involved in the process.”

He noted that some delegate candidates are promising to “deliver the moon.”

“But we must be realistic,” he said. “It will take a few years of building strong relationships and fostering trust in Congress and the federal agencies to make our issues understood, appreciated, and translated into a larger economic zone.”

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