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    Sunday, October 21, 2018-10:43:22P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Senate airs concerns about DPL bill

SOME senators have expressed concern about a House measure that will grant the secretary of Department of Public Lands the authority to negotiate public-land leases.

On Tuesday, the Senate returned House Bill 20-139, which was introduced by Speaker Ralph Demapan, to the Senate Committee on Resources and Economic Development for further review.

Sen. Sixto Igisomar said the bill has “unclear language” that needs to be clarified.

Senators also want to know if the bill will allow the secretary of the DPL power to “disregard  rules and regulations.”

They likewise noted that House legal counsel John Cool signed the bill for introduction purposes only and has not reviewed it thoroughly. The bill was not signed for legal sufficiency, the senators said.

To avoid these and other legal issues, Senate President Arnold Palacios asked Senate Floor Leader Frank Borja to make a motion to refer the bill to committee for further review. Borja made the motion which was then approved by the members.

Igisomar said the “bill” must be fixed to ensure that the DPL secretary is able to make her own decision and not be “threatened” by her counsel.

“Public lands should make money for the local people,” the senator said. “Those lands are just sitting there and not making any money. The DPL secretary must be able to make decisions that will make money from those lands and not keep investors waiting and waiting for years.”

Sen. Paul A. Manglona said he introduced a bill to grant DPL flexibility in handling public-land leases on Rota, but it is still “collecting dust” while a similar measure, H.B. 20-139, was already passed by the House without further review.

He said he was disappointed with the way DPL handled land-lease proposals and investors on Rota.

“Two development proposals for the former Paopao Hotel, for example, failed to move forward because DPL was not flexible in terms of its initial project deposit fees and rental rates,” Manglona said.

“There seems to be no excitement on the part of DPL to motivate these investors who want to re-open the former Paopao Hotel so we can have employment and some economic activity on Rota,” Manglona said in an interview. “That property is  dilapidated but it can be revived…. Public-land leases here on Saipan are moving so fast and then we see this House bill that  gives DPL almost blanket authority to lease public lands. If they do not support or give serious consideration to our investors on Rota, why this big movement to allow DPL to have this kind of authority to lease public lands in general?”

Asked for comment, DPL Secretary Marianne Concepcion-Teregeyo said:

 “Senator Paul called me last year when DPL issued [a Request for Proposals] on the former Paopao Hotel property. We only had one bidder and the bid was not responsive. Because there was no other bid and the investor’s submission was unresponsive, we met with the investor. We tried to get the investor to reduce the anticipated project cost. They had a big project but not enough funds to support the project. Senator Paul wanted us to give them the land rent free.  Senator Paul specifically requested special treatment for one investor. DPL gave numerous extensions for submissions, and the investor never submitted required information. Senator Paul wanted DPL to give the property free of charge to his special investor.”

Concepcion-Teregeyo said the investor never paid the required $200,000.

“DPL does everything by the book. Yes, we work at every angle possible to assist investors, especially for Rota.  We are currently reviewing our regulations to make it more business friendly.

“Senator Paul’s suggestion on giving Northern Marianas descent-property free for his investor is not something I can do. He also told me that his investor should not be required to give ‘public benefit’ contributions as they will be employing people. So, in essence, he wanted us to give the property rent free, and that meant he was asking me to violate my fiduciary duty.”

Concepcion-Teregeyo said there was only one real investor; the other one was just ‘interested’ and not an investor because they didn’t even submit proposal documents or construction plans, no full scale or business proposals and no deposit was submitted.”

As for House Bill 20-139, she said it has “some assurances of protection so that the DPL secretary must still uphold the highest fiduciary duty. The bill doesn’t empower me — it empowers whoever the DPL secretary is,” she said.

Concepcion-Teregeyo said she supports the intent of the bill which is “to allow some discretion in negotiating land leases as deemed appropriate and consistent with the DPL secretary’s fiduciary duties and in the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth.”

In her comment submitted to the House Committee on Natural Resources dated Dec. 1, 2017, she said:

“As you know, Tasi Tours has been a long-time permittee of DPL operating the Managaha beach concession. Their permit expired in September 2016, and yet pursuant to the regulations, I am not able to enter into or renew a contract with them as the very strict regulations require an RFP process to be initiated. DPL has no other option than to RFP the Managaha concession with no guarantee that the Japanese market and rapport can be maintained through Tasi Tours, a Japanese owned and operated business.

“Lastly, DPL received a proposal for [the Paopao Hotel] in Rota. This is the second time DPL announced this property for RFP, but this is the first time we received a proposal. Again, due to the very strict and limiting regulations, we could not negotiate a lease with them as their proposal was deemed incomplete.”

The DPL secretary said another  investor was interested in leasing the public land where an existing fire station is located.

She said the investor was willing to fund the relocation of the San Roque Fire Station but was subject to other excessive fees which made the investment opportunity less desirable.

“It is DPL’s position to generate maximum revenue for leased public lands, but we must remain business friendly [for leases that are] mutually beneficial,” she added.