Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Lease, sell or fight: Landowners weigh buildup options

Lease, sell or fight: Landowners weigh buildup options

By Amritha Alladi • Pacific Daily News • January 7, 2010

Some Guam residents have urged the federal government not to condemn their land for military buildup projects or any other federal use.

But those landowners would probably benefit by considering leasing or selling their land to the government for buildup or other federal projects, especially since history has shown when the federal government wants to implement something, it does it, said Benny Crawford, chairman of the Tiyan Taskforce.

Otherwise, landowners may lose their chance to negotiate a price that could incorporate the value of the land as it appreciates in future years, he said.

"I think the whole idea of requesting not to condemn land is a good idea. However, knowing that if they're going to take the land they're going to do it anyway, the better possibility would be to sit down and negotiate with them," Crawford said. "It may be worth $1 an acre right now, but in the next three years that dollar's going to jump up, so in the negotiation process, you can look at what the fair market value is and go for a projection ... down the road and see what the projection would be," he said.

Some of the island's landowners voiced opposition to land condemnation for the buildup during a Dec. 29 public hearing on Resolution 258. The public hearing on the resolution, which asks the federal government to avoid condemnation of land for buildup or other federal projects, was an opportunity for Guam residents to voice their land acquisition concerns to the military.

Guam residents will have more opportunities to voice their opinion on the military buildup during a series of public meetings on the buildup's draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The first public meeting is scheduled for today at Southern High School. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., residents can view informative displays and ask experts questions. From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., attendees can take turns making comments, according to the Joint Guam Program Office.

Land acquisition is among the thorny buildup issues for the host community.

"I think it's very clear that, if the buildup is going to be predicated on condemning land, then there's going to be problems," said Sen. Judith Guthertz, author of the resolution and chairwoman of the Legislature's buildup committee.

But some landowners including Catherine McCollum and Gloria Nelson said they didn't want to give up their lands because it held too much sentimental value, and the properties had been in their families for generations.

"Our lands are our homes," Nelson said in her testimony. "They are the places that build our identity as Guamanians and Chamorros."

"I don't believe outsiders can come in here and tell us what to do and how to do it," McCollum added. "They gotta do it the right way and not take it from where we stand."

Plus, the military already owns one-third of Guam's land mass, residents argued, and that should be enough to carry out the Defense Department's objectives.

The only person to speak against the resolution during the hearing on the resolution was local businessman James Adkins, who said he had his land in Georgia taken once when the federal government wanted to build a highway. Adkins said his family wasn't given the price they had originally wanted, but after taking it to the courts and going through the regular proceedings, they got the amount they had requested.

"There's ways to work (it) out even though there's a condemnation. You can get money -- much more than what some guy who walk in says, 'This is what we want to offer you,'" Adkins testified at the hearing.

Just compensation

Siska Hutapea, managing partner and chief appraiser at Captain, Hutapea & Associates explained how the government provides "just compensation," for the lands that it acquires.

Just compensation, as defined by The Dictionary of Real Estate, refers to the amount of loss for which a property owner is compensated when his or her property is taken, she said.

If the land is partially acquired by the government, appraisers first determine the value of the larger parcel and then determine the value of the damages to your property as a result of the taking, as well as the advantages to your property, Hutapea said. For example, the government's partial acquisition of a person's land may give the land a weird shape, but may give more road access, she said.

"Just compensation includes the value of the land they're taking plus damages minus the benefit," Hutapea said. "It should put the owner in as good a position as he or she would be if the property had not been taken. So it's generally held to be market value, but courts have refused to rule that it's always equivalent to the market value," she added.

However, according to Ron McNinch, associate professor of public administration at the University of Guam, Guam's unique history shows landowners feel they weren't fairly compensated when their lands were condemned after World War II. It's that resentment that landowners brought with them to last week's hearing.

"Through the repeated condemnation of our homes, our identity and sense of self is also condemned," Nelson said. "In the Chamorro spirit of inafa maolek, if I have something you need and I can give it, I will offer. But I have nothing left to give."

Fair price

For those skeptical of whether they'll get a fair price if the lands are condemned this time around, Joint Guam Program Office Executive Director David Bice, a retired Marine major general whose office oversees the buildup, assured on Dec. 24 that if the Defense Department decides it is necessary to acquire land, strict procedures will be followed to pay landowners the fair market value.

"Further, any proposed major DOD land acquisitions effort, such as those associated with the preferred main cantonment and live-fire range alternatives, must be approved by the Congressional defense committees, including the House Armed Services Committee where Congresswoman Bordallo is a member," Bice wrote to Guthertz on Dec. 24.

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