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Bill focuses on provisions of ASG land transactions

fili@samoanews.com

There is a move in the House to overhaul government land transactions through a bill introduced last week that would, among other things, define “public use” of land for eminent domain purposes and for government land acquisition, including not leasing communal lands acquired to private commercial enterprises.

The bill, which sponsors Reps. Tapumanaia Galu Satele Jr. and Va’amua Henry Sesepasara, say is in accordance with the “protective policy provisions” of the local constitution, also seeks to prohibit leasing of condemned communal land to private enterprises.

The bill’s preamble states in part that the local constitution calls for the government, as a policy, to protect persons of Samoan ancestry against alienation of their lands and destruction of the Samoan way of life and language.

“In order to implement this basic, fundamental doctrine and to preserve and protect the communal land system, it is the intent of this act to clarify the government’s public use of land and place appropriate restrictions on such use,” the bill states.

Among the proposed amendments cited in the bill,  two new provisions are added to Section 2, ASCA 37.2001, titled “Eminent domain — Compensation”. The new provisions are being identified as 37.2001 (c)(d).

“A public use of land is limited to recognized government agency functions, public schools, public facilities operated by government agencies and public right of ways. Land leases and sale of land for the benefit of private commercial enterprise are not public uses,” according to the 37.2001(c) amendment.

“Consistent with the native land protective policies established by treaty and by the American Samoa Revised Constitution, all fee titles in communal land that have been acquired or to be acquired by eminent domain shall revert to their prior communal owner when the public use for which it was acquired ceases,” says the 37.2001(d) amendment.

Another major amendment proposed in the bill deals with Section 3, ASCA 37.2010 - titled “Authority to purchase property — Transfer of Title”.

It currently states in part that the government shall have the power and authority to purchase property for public purposes from the owners and to compensate them by private agreement. One amendment would change the word “purposes” to read “uses as defined in 37.2001 (c)”

The bill adds another new provision which reads: “The public uses for a parcel of land acquired by the government must be specified in the executed document transferring. Any fee title in communal land that has been acquired or to be acquired by the government by purchase shall be subject to the same limitation set forth 37.2001(d).”

Another amendment provides for reversion of excess ocean-side land taken for original public highway.

Current laws under Section 4 - ASCA 37.2050 titled “Highway — Establishment” states that public highway declared and proclaimed by Regulations No. 15 and No. 16, 1900, enacted Sept. 3, 1900 and amended May 10, 1921 extending from Blunt’s Point on the southern side of Pago Pago Harbor, toward Observatory Point and around the harbor to Breaker’s Point on the northern side of the harbor along the shore at highwater mark, of a uniform width of 15 feet distant inland from the shore, the land included in the description being condemned and appropriated for public uses, is recognized as a public highway and the rights of the government and the public thereto is asserted.

The bill seeks to add: “Where the oceanside edge of the public highway was originally located or has come to be located by natural accretion or manmade fill more than 15 feet inland from an existing shore at highwater mark, all communal lands acquired under the above Regulations between the existing highway and the original shoreline shall revert to the prior communal owners.”

A final amendment proposal cited in the bill calls for the creation of a new provision titled “Restriction on Government Leasing” and states that: “The government shall not lease the communal lands it has acquired by eminent domain or purchase to private commercial enterprises.”

Additionally, “Government land leases for private commercial enterprises existing at the time of enactment of this statute into law shall remain in full force and effect until expiration or earlier termination pursuant to the terms of the lease.”

APPROVAL REQUIREMENT

It is noted in the bill that any changes to the land issues in American Samoa requires a bill to be approved by two successive legislatures, by a two-thirds vote of the entire membership of the House and Senate and by the governor before it becomes effective.



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