NMD group to host general membership meeting about public land leases

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THE Northern Marianas Descent Corporation is holding a general membership meeting tonight, Monday, at 6 p.m. at the Carolinian Utt Pavilion to discuss Public Law 20-84.

P.L. 20-84, which Gov. Ralph Torres signed into law on Dec. 31, 2018, increased the term of public land leases up to 40 years with an additional extension of 15 years; authorized certain existing public land leases to be amended to extend the lease term up to 55 years; and authorized the Department of Public Lands to negotiate a new public land lease with certain existing public land lessees under new terms and considerations without publishing a Request for Proposals or RFP.

NMDC president John Gonzales told Variety that the new law “substantially modifies the original intent of the fair, equitable, and most reasonable manner in which NMDs are entitled to their best and highest lease investment returns on their lands as collective owners.”

Gonzales said the RFP process is necessary to spur competition among potential lessees, giving NMDs “the upper hand to control and drive lease terms and fees” and that the absence of an RFP “negates the strategic position of NMDs as landowners.”

He also expressed concerns about a “lack of transparency” in the process by which P.L. 20-84 was passed.

“The NMDs were misled that this law was only to give a 15-year extension after the expiring 40 years of the original lease term, only to find out that it gives them [lessees] an exclusive, outright, wholesale new term of 40 years plus 15 years extension, totaling 55 years.”

Also on NMDC’s agenda will be a discussion about the Department of Public Land’s sliding scale lease fee, which Gonzales is concerned may “undervalue” leases by reducing the lease fee percentage below 5 percent.

“We must be in the driver’s seat, in control with the upper hand, negotiating for the best terms and highest revenues of our premium real estate assets,” he said, adding that this will require “leveling the playing field by opening up RFPs to allow current lessees and prospective lessees to submit competitive investment bids.”

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