CLTC review of Barrigada Heights leases finally underway - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

CLTC review of Barrigada Heights leases finally underway

Posted: Jun 13, 2018 4:22 PM Updated:

The Chamorro Land Trust will finally begin its review of leases awarded in the controversial Barrigada Heights area – almost a month after CLTC board chair Pika Fejeran ordered the agency to do it.

A review of Barrigada Heights leases was ordered by CLTC board chair Pika Fejeran on May 18, but the AG’s office had already taken several boxes of documents containing all of the agency’s files on Barrigada Heights from the CLTC’s offices, according to Land Management Director Michael Borja.

“The AG was concerned about the sanctity of the records and so she had requested from Pika to transfer records to her control – so they were physically moved from land management to the AG,” Governor’s Special Assistant Vince Leon Guerrero tells KUAM News.

Leon Guerrero was detailed to the CLTC to assist the commission with its current controversies.

The CLTC just yesterday received scanned copies of the Barrigada Heights files.

AG’s investigation continues

AG’s office spokeswoman Carlina Charfauros confirms with KUAM News the AG’s review of CLTC Barrigada Heights leases is “still ongoing” and Leon Guerrero points out how the CLTC’s review of Barrigada Heights docs will differ from the AG’s.

“Our review is the administrative procedures that were implemented. The review that the AG is doing is in compliance with the law,” Leon Guerrero said.

The AG issued a legal opinion dividing CLTC leases into two categories – “voidable” and “null and void” – leases which were not signed by the CLTC board are “voidable” and application rights transferred from living applicants and leases that derived from applicants switching dates and times or places in line are “null and void”.

The AG’s investigation was spurred in part by KUAM News reports involving the controversial awarding of leases in Barrigada Heights to DLM employees and their relatives – and leases awarded that involved applicants “switching” dates and times. DPW cleared an access road into the area without permits from EPA. The clearing was done at the request of Land Management Director Michael Borja.

Senator Regine Biscoe Lee asked the AG to review CLTC leases given out in Barrigada Heights. Senator Lee received a lot in Barrigada Heights. Lee’s lease was categorized as “null and void” according to a legal opinion from the AG.

Lee told KUAM News she awaits further guidance from the CLTC and the AG. Senator Lee – according to legislative documents – is off-island. CLTC board chair Pika Fejeran and Vice chair Joseph Cruz are also off-island.

Duenas now acting board chair

That means next week’s CLTC board meeting will be presided over by acting chairman Austin Duenas. Duenas was confirmed as a CLTC board member in late April and the June 21 CLTC meeting will be just his third meeting as a board member. Duenas is the administrator for the Guam State Clearinghouse and was also a former “executive assistant” for Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio.

Duenas has no experience in land issues.

“The scope of work has been outlined by the Chair’s plan of action and anybody can review that and make sure we’re making progress towards that. You don’t need to have long-term experience on the CLTC to be able to carry that through,” Leon Guerrero said when asked if he was confident in Duenas’ ability to lead the CLTC.

CLTC figuring out how it will follow AG’s opinion

The CLTC is in the process of reviewing all leases and determining how to move forward – using the AG’s opinion as a starting point – but following a strict interpretation of the AG’s opinion may create more problems than it solves.

“That’s part of the examination – if we ‘null and void’ what are the consequences of doing that?” Leon Guerrero said.

Leon Guerrero said there are CLTC properties which fall under the “null and void” category that have houses on them – and if the CLTC were to remove lessees on those properties, the agency would then be responsible for reimbursing lessees for the investments and expenses they’ve made on those properties. This could cost the CLTC hundreds of thousands of dollars, legal counsel Nick Toft said in the CLTC’s May 18 meeting.

“If there’s penalties involved or injury to people, let us examine each of those leases to make sure we understand the ramifications if we do pursue the ‘null and void’ options,” Leon Guerrero said.

This has forced the CLTC to reconsider how it will align its reviews of leases with the AG’s opinion.

 “It is still an opinion,” Leon Guerrero said. “It is not a judgment by the court. Opinions are usually to be respected and complied with – typically. But in this case, should we blindly follow the AG’s opinion? We want to follow the opinion, but let’s paint the whole picture of the consequences that will follow,” Leon Guerrero said.

Leon Guerrero said the “voidable” leases will probably be the first leases that the CLTC will reach a decision on. The agency is currently reviewing these leases to ensure proper procedures were followed, and leases that comply with the law will be considered for ratification by the CLTC board. A review of “voidable” leases should be completed by August, Leon Guerrero said.

“Voidable leases are the low-hanging fruit and probably a little easier to figure out,” Leon Guerrero said.

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