Terlaje calls for oversight hearing on federal lands

Speaker Therese Terlaje has called an oversight hearing on the land the governor wants to use to build a $1 billion medical campus in Mangilao. In a public notice she sent Thursday night, Ms. Terlaje has summoned the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission and the Department of Land Management so the public can know more about “the status of recent or pending transfers, deeds, leases, or licenses between the Government of Guam and the Federal Government or DOD.”

The hearing will be conducted virtually on Thursday, November 18, and will begin at 5 p.m. Kandit will be covering the hearing live.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and the U.S. Navy have set into motion a plan to lease Naval land adjacent to Eagles Field in Mangilao for 100 years so the government of Guam can build a new hospital, behavioral health and wellness center, and public health headquarters there. She is proceeding with these plans, according to documents disclosed to Kandit from the governor’s office, despite the availability of Oka Point for this project, and the fact that 18 families are making claims to this land in Mangilao.

The Secretary of the Navy informed Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero 10 months ago that he intended to declare excess land it condemned from these 18 families decades ago. If those lands are declared excess and returned by Congress, by Guam law, they are to be returned to the heirs of the pre-condemnation owners, or the ancestral land owners.

“I am pleased to now identify the DoD parcel for the medical complex, and add it to the list of parcels eligible for return to the Territory of Guam,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite wrote to the governor on January 15 this year.

If the Navy is willing to return the land, then why does the governor of Guam want to lease it instead?

“[T]he Director of Land Management is authorized and required to reserve all future lands received by the government of Guam declared excess, and ensure that all information pertaining to excess lands, both current and future, are sent to the Commission for entry into the excess lands registry,” Public Law 25-45 states. According to the statute, which has governed the return of ancestral lands since former Gov. Carl Gutierrez signed it into law on June 9, 1999, lands held in the excess lands registry are to distributed until claims by the heirs of the pre-condemnation owners are extinguished.

In the case of the Fadian lands adjacent to Eagles Field, where the governor is rushing to build a $1 billion hospital, there are 18 pre-condemnation owners, whose heirs have legal claims to the lots.

The lease is a tool to circumvent Guam law.

“The Legislature recognized the need of private landowners to pursue appropriate remedies to redress the harm done to them, and to Guam as a whole, when a substantial percentage of the land on Guam was taken by the Naval Government of Guam or the Government of the United States through proceedings in eminent domain, or under threat of eminent domain, following World War II,” the first paragraph of Public Law 25-45 states.

According to the family of at least one of the pre-condemnation owners, Maria Cabrera, the original landowners were not justly compensated. Her son, Vince Cabrera, told Kandit his mother was paid only six cents a square meter by the Navy.

Ms. Leon Guerrero, in an interview on KUAM’s The Link last month, insisted the original landowners had already been compensated for the land. Even if the Navy had paid fair market value for the lands, which it didn’t, Guam law is clear about what is to be done with returned lands, where there exist heirs to original land owners: return it. And if the land cannot be returned because it is under public use, then a trade or just compensation is to occur.

The only way around the law is for the Navy to not declare the land excess and for Congress to not return the land. As late as January this year, though, the Secretary of the Navy had intended to declare it excess.

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