The Department of Public Lands has awarded the contract to conduct the CNMI Comprehensive Public Land Use Plan Update, covering Rota, Tinian, Saipan, and the Northern Islands, to SSFM, CNMI, LLC.
Public Law 15-2 requires that DPL adopts and promulgate a comprehensive land use plan. The process of updating the land use plan will require consultation with the Public Lands Advisory Board and coordination with other permitting, development, and land management agencies, such as Saipan Zoning, Coastal Resources Management, and the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, to name a few. The plan will be consistent with other comprehensive land use plans, existing legislation, and zoning laws approved for each senatorial district.
The last land use plan was completed in 1989 by DPL’s predecessor, Marianas Public Land Corporation. In 2007, DPL undertook efforts to update the 1989 plan; however, that update was not completed. In 2015, DPL attempted again to update the 1989 plan; but the contracted firm rescinded due to scheduling conflicts and other commitments. Since the other proposals received exceeded DPL’s budget for the land use plan, DPL canceled the RFP. After securing $1,000,000 in the FY 2016 budget for the land use plan update, DPL re-issued the RFP and entered into a contract with SSFM on Aug. 11, 2017.
A part of SSFM’s contract requires that the firm provide all necessary services for designing and developing the plan. To ensure input from all stakeholders, SSFM will establish consulting teams comprised of both public and private sectors, and more importantly, SSFM will conduct public hearings for each senatorial district. These public hearings are designed as a platform to listen to the concerns and needs of the people, shaping the plan as it is developed. Other considerations will include current statutes, regulations, other existing plans, and the outdated land use plan.
Objectives of the plan include updating DPL’s inventory of all public lands, determining priority and maximum best uses of available public lands such as identifying and reserving suitable lands for residential homesteads, preserving lands that contain critical resources such as groundwater aquifers, wetlands, habitat mitigation, prime public recreation areas, sites for potential school, hospitals, transportation corridors, and sites suitable for leasing.
Completion of the plan update will take approximately one year. The updated plan will serve as both a physical and policy-based blueprint to manage the future development of public lands in the CNMI. The plan will encompass a 10-year planning horizon and will be updated, as needed, every five years.
There have been attempts to suspend the development of public lands until a plan is adopted by DPL. In 2011, the Superior Court granted a preliminary injunction brought forth by Friends of Marpi v. Commonwealth stemming from the installation of power poles in Marpi. According to the court, DPL is required to adopt a land use plan in accordance with PL 15-2 before any new developments on pristine undeveloped public lands can take place.
DPL Secretary Marianne Concepcion Teregeyo assures the community that they will have an opportunity to express their concerns during the initial phase and will be able to comment on the draft final phase. Moreover, DPL is actively taking measures to ensure that an adopted land use plan will be in place by this time next year.
Special assistant Michelle C. Atalig serves as the coordinator for the plan update. Atalig is working alongside SSFM to oversee the plan’s progression, ensure that public concerns are taken into consideration, and that the contractual components between DPL and SSFM are fulfilled to the satisfaction of P.L. 15-2 and all stakeholders.
“We are seeing a significant increase in investors seeking public lands for a variety of uses. The land use plan will help DPL determine how to best utilize available public land for development while reserving lands most suitable for homestead and preserving other lands that contain critical resources. We are excited to begin the process and we look forward to sharing the finalized plan upon completion,” said Secretary Teregeyo.