Monday, February 13, 2006

Update on the Tiyan Landowners

Tiyan land issue makes it to Capitol Hill
by Mindy Fothergill, KUAM News
Monday, February 13, 2006

Governor Felix Camacho will stand by original landowners as they fight to keep their recently returned Tiyan properties. After concerns were raised about the possible reversion of Tiyan land to the federal government, Guam's case has made it to the White House, as the island's chief executive says the battle against the feds has just begun.

The plight of original landowners faced with the possibility of their land being condemned so a highway can be built in Tiyan has made its way to the nation's capitol. Governor Felix Camacho contacted inter-governmental affairs officials in Washington, D.C. to see what can be done about the Federal Highway Administration's threats to take back Tiyan lands. Optimistically Camacho forecasted, "The battle has just begun, but it's one we're going to win."

The Governor is working on Guam's game plan saying the goal is simple: find a win-win solution that allows original landowners to keep their property. "As governor I need to stand up for the rights of our people," he told KUAM News.

On Friday FHA regional division administrator Abraham Wong admitted that he has not completely reviewed the quitclaim deed that spells out the government's obligations for the Tiyan property. The Governor reacted saying he believes a solution can be reached with Wong's superiors. "I think Mr. Wong is going to have to reconsider what he has done because it goes beyond him," continued Camacho. "This is a big regional issue, not only the Department of Transportation, but Department of Defense, GovGuam, the people of Guam, the United states military. One little highway is not going to deter our future or throw it off-track. I'm going to make sure of that."

The Governor expects to hold a meeting with the family leaders of original landowners in Tiyan this week to hear their concerns and begin working on a strategy. Camacho admits he will ask for an extension, saying thirty days to respond to the Federal Highway Administration is not enough time to resolve the situation. "They drew the line in the sand and said you cross it or you deal with us. I'm not going to take this lightly. As governor, I'm not going to sit back and certainly I represent our people and their best interests, and I'm going to do that."

While original landowners wait anxiously for answers, trying to figure out who to blame for this land fiasco, the Governor says he's committed to fight for their land rights - no matter what the consequences. "This person I think didn't understand the magnitude of this problem and how fiercely our people are going to defend their land rights," he said of the ultimate culprit. "This is a fight that everyone here's going to take up on behalf of our people. No one's going to let a federal official tell us what to do or threaten us without putting up a fight. "I'm certainly going to fight for them."

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Original landowners ready for fight over Tiyan
by Mindy Fothergill, KUAM News
Wednesday, February 08, 2006

It's a controversy that's been brewing for months now. As KUAM News has been reporting, the federal government is pushing for the return of Tiyan lands designated for the construction of an access road. The problem is that same property has been returned to original landowners who have since renovated and moved into the homes.

The government has been put on notice and now has less than thirty days to respond to the feds who visited last month to assess the situation. What will happen to original landowners who have waited decades for the return of their property with a possibility of that land being taken back again?

Catherine McCollum is frustrated - primarily that the federal government wants to take back her family's property in Tiyan that was recently returned. After decades of waiting for her grandfather Bernardo Punzalan's property, McCollum isn't going to leave without a fight. "The people are here to stay. If they do get up and leave, my heart goes out to them because maybe they don't have the fight in them, but the ones I've spoken to are willing to put up a fight," she told KUAM News.

Now with the local government's looming deadline to explain why the land was returned, McCollum says she wanted to send a message to the government to protect the interests of original landowners. This morning the tamuning resident staged a one-person protest in Tiyan today parking her car in the middle of the road, a Guam flag prominently raised.

She was arrested on charges of obstructing a public highway, assault on a police officer, and resisting arrest."

This is the first of many fights...a knee on my rib is not going to stop me from going out there and making my statement again," McCollum says. She feels appalled that elected leaders have failed to fight for original landowners and property that she maintains is rightfully theirs, adding, "The elected officials should come up and start saying no enough is enough you guys leave these people alone. They're home now. You don't do this to my people. Don't tell me what to do on my land. He's got the power. They've all got the power but they're not doing anything about this power."

United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration division administrator Abraham Wong wrote a letter to Governor Felix Camacho, expressing concerns about the Government of Guam's "unauthorized actions".

In October 2000 a quitclaim deed conveyed Tiyan properties to Guam's public sector for the sole purpose of building a highway - specifically to develop the land for three parkways from Route 20, Route 16a, and an extension of Route 10. The deed prohibited the government from further transferring the property without the consent of the Federal Highway Administration. On May 31, 2005 the government, through the Guam Ancestral Lands Commission, conveyed the Tiyan property to original landowners like McCollum's family. A reversionary clause in the contract provides that in the event the government decides not to build the highway, the property would be given back to the feds.

Wong threatens that without correction, Guam's actions may result in reversion of the land, the withholding of federal funds or other legal action.

Governor Camacho says there's no easy answer to the predicament the government is in, but he was made clear that the feds are threatening to pull money if the property isn't taken back. "There's threats of losing federal dollars in grant money in the millions of dollars either way there's a high price to pay," he told KUAM News.

The Governor says his legal counsel is currently reviewing the feds' letter to draft a response. For now, Camacho says he's looking for a win-win situation. When lawmakers passed legislation to return excess lands to original landowners, the Governor says he was told by certain senators that he refused to identify that it was unlikely the federal government would take the land back."

I believe their bluff has been called and we're stuck with having to decide," said the Governor. "Either way there's going to be a loss one way or another, either to the landowners or to the government or to the highway. There's no easy answer here and not everyone's going to be satisfied in the end."

It's not an answer residents like Catherine McCollum are pleased to hear. "This is sad - it's really sad," she dejectedly expressed. "It's a stab in our back when our own people have to do this to our own people."

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