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Billion-dollar GovGuam deal could go bust

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - A billion-dollar deal is on the table for land, just yesterday earmarked for Tiyan landowners.  Negotiations underway for almost a year could go down the drain after a bill was signed into law giving land to Tiyan landowners that was the subject of a deal with the Ancestral Lands Commission. A public law signed Tuesday may benefit a group of Tiyan landowners, but it could halt a ten-digit negotiation by the agency.

Mike Cruz, legal counsel for the Guam Economic Development Authority, which handles the leasing of ancestral lands reported to the Commission today on two requests for proposal issued last year.  "One for FAA and one for Andersen South and we've been negotiating the terms of that lease we have not completed negotiations and now we have the law," summarized Cruz.

Attorney Cruz says GEDA is now looking to the Commission in light of the Public Law 30-06, which mandates the property in the middle of their billion-dollar deal be disbursed to the original Tiyan landowners.  

Assistant attorney general William Bischoff, counsel to the Ancestral Lands Commission, made it clear what the law means for the negotiations, saying, "The Legislature has spoken as to what going to happen with this land and that is really the end of the matter."

But the billion-dollar bidder, Joel Tribaudino, who represents an investment group from Colorado, wants to continue negotiations of a 99-year lease for 500 acres of land on the Federal Aviation Administration property.  Asked if he had any concern that the land may be returned, he said, "Our attorneys have looked at this very carefully and we are confidant that is very difficult to do."

He says the investment company has a master plan for the land that includes commercial development, but said he could not discuss it in detail.  "We conveyed to GEDA that we are ready willing and able to assume the conditions of the agreements and we have agreed to all their terms and this is what we are trying to."

During the meeting Attorney Bischoff reminded the Commission that the Department of Defense might want to use the land for the military buildup.  "Properties that are going to be returned are properties that have been eyed by the military for that firing range," he stated.

That could only happen now, says Bischoff, if the department were to condemn the land and then go to court to pay the landowners fair market value.  Tribualino did not seem worried about this possible outcome, calmly saying, "We are willing to take that risk."

If the Colorado company is successful in obtain the lease, it could mean big bucks for the 70+ Tiyan estate owners - roughly $14 million apiece.  

Mark Chargualaf, former member of the Ancestral Lands Commission, says while the pay off could be big for some the deal would be unfair to many.  "This system will benefit the Tiyan landowners; whatever compensation is generated from here will be shared among the thousands of landowners.  Why now are we going to take this away from the thousands of landowners who have been waiting years? For 50 years we have been waiting, and now on the verge it's going to be taken away from us because of legislation that was passed to benefit a small group of people?" he said.

Commission member Ronald Eclavea echoed Chargualaf's concerns, saying in the meeting that he had reservation about the passage of the Tiyan land bill into law, saying it would practically wipe out ancestral lands inventory and, "Leave a whole lot out in the cold".  But Peter Perez, attorney for the Tiyan landowners, says the Commission is now saddled with complying with the new public law.

The decision of whether or not Ancestral Lands Commission will continue to negotiate the billion-dollar deal is now in the hands of the lawyers for both sides.

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