"Complicated land Issues still need to be settled before other projects can begin"

October 15, 2008

By Michaela Corr
The Kaselehlie Press

Palikir, Pohnpei -The first phase of the Weno road project is nearly ready for contractor bidding. The design has been completed by Lyons and Associates for the new 4.2 mile long road that will consist of unreinforced concrete 9 inches deep on a new road bed with a new road drainage system that includes 23 new large drainage outfalls. 80,000 feet of new water pipe and sewers will also be laid during the construction process to replace the water pipes that have been in place in Weno for decades.

Robert Westerfield, of the FSM's Project Management Unit, the office that oversees infrastructure projects in the FSM said that the project will go out for contractor bids on the 15th of October. The pre-construction conference will be in mid-November and the contractor will be selected on December 15 of this year. He said that the government estimate for the cost for the project is greater than $20 million and less than $30 million. That was as specific as he could be without divulging what the government thinks the project will cost to contractors who will competitively bid on the project.

The road will extend from the airport on the northwest of Weno south through the most commercial sections of Chuuk to the village of Mwan in southwest Weno. There will also be spurs that connect the main road through to the State Hospital and the Legislative buildings. Sidewalks are a potential part of the project. Cost will determine whether those are included in the plan or not.

The previous plan for the Weno road was to utilize the existing road bed and to pour concrete to a depth of two inches. No plan had been made for new drainage. Wester field said that the new plan is much better in that it will last longer. He said that the road is designed to last 25 years. It will last at least that long if Chuuk State makes and follows through with plans to keep the drainage systems clear of debris. He said if the State doesn't follow through, clogged drainage systems could cause water to undermine the road which would ultimately cause cracks.

Initial road striping, which is included in the plan, will be up to United States standards including crosswalks and stop lines for stop signs. Chuuk State will need to maintain the road striping. Westerfield estimated that the State would need to do this at least once every five years.

The PMU office said that Phase II of the road plan would likely begin immediately after the completion of Phase I. Phase II would be a road extending east from the airport past Kurassa Hotel in the direction of Xavier High School in the northeast of the island.

Westerfield said that there are still a few easements that they will need to obtain before the project can go forward with certainty. He said that FSM-PMU doesn't anticipate any problems in that process that would keep the road, drainage, water and sewer project from beginning as scheduled.

That has not been the case with many of the infrastructure projects in Chuuk. Land issues for the proposed new wastewater plant have hampered the development of the plant. Drainage lines from the new road will still drain directly into the ocean until that plant can be built.

A letter from Jack E. Yakana, Program Manager of the PMU said, "Chuuk State has not furnished land title records to the PMU office for this project as requested in written communications to Chuuk State, however, the PMU has obtained some documentation and information directly from Mr. Redley Killion, who may own some or all of the land in question. Even though Chuuk State is in default on the land purchase agreement, Mr. Killion has given the PMU his personal assurance that he will take no action to regain possession of the land or to block Chuuk State's use of the land for public purposes. In addition, Mr. Killion has reviewed and agreed to execute a waiver and quiet enjoyment document which may satisfy the Compact's FPA (Fiscal Procedures Agreement) requirement that Chuuk State provide clear legal authority for use of land upon which a capital improvement project is to be constructed."

The Killion's did not agree to waive any right they have to collect the money they say that the Chuuk State government still owes them from the original purchase agreement for the property. They asked that the amount still owed by Chuuk State be clearly stated in the agreement that would allow the construction of the Waste Water Plant on their property. They asked that Chuuk State acknowledge the amount owed to them as a debt and that the debt be included in the list of Chuuk State obligations to be paid. "By executing this Agreement and agreeing to permit development on their land, Mr. and Mrs. Killion do not agree to have their obligation treated with any less priority than all other obligations of Chuuk State.

The plant still cannot be constructed until Chuuk State provides documentation that clearly shows that they have the right to utilize the land where the Weno Island Wastewater Treatment Plant is located which may be situated on land owned by more than one owner.

The State must also approve the draft agreement with Redley and Jacinta Killion. The agreement with the Killion's was only pursued after a May 30, 2008 letter to Governor Wesley Simina met with no response. PMU asked Governor Killion for Chuuk State's comments and/or concurrence with the draft Agreement with Redley and Jacinta Killion in a letter dated August 21, 2008.

The May letter to Governor Simina mentioned the fact that the Land Commission Office burned down several years ago and vital land records were destroyed. Without those records, proof of ownership or other legal authority for use of land may be difficult to establish. It is not clear whether or not Chuuk State government has taken steps to reconstruct all of the land records for Chuuk State that were lost in the fire.

Meanwhile other projects in Chuuk are being held up due to property issues.

For the construction of Iras Demo Elementary School in Weno, Chuuk State provided certificates of title for the land on which the school was to be built. They didn't disclose the fact that the land titles are the subject of litigation that is still active in court. The construction project for the school cannot go forward even for the design phase until the land title showing that Chuuk State can utilize the property for its purposes is clear of all legal claims against it.

Land titles for Weipat High School in Onoun municipality are not currently clear. The title is in the name of the municipality and no legal authorization has been provided to PMU by Onoun Island that would allow Chuuk State to use the land for the High School. There appears also to be an overlap of land titles with Onoun Municipal Junior High School. The net affect is that the High School cannot be built on the land until the title issues are cleared.

"Southern Namoneas High School upgrades are on hold pending resolution of land disputes between the heirs of Nipwech Ungeni and Seny Moses and a payment dispute between Chuuk State on the Moses family. Chuuk State is in default on a land purchase agreement which resulted in closure of most of the school facility," said the letter to Congress from Yakana," said the letter written to the FSM Congress.

Indeed, an attachment to the letter showed a picture of a sign hanging in the High School saying "Site closed until payment made tress passers (sic) will be 'prosecuted'."

Even possible repairs and renovations to the Chuuk State Hospital which have not yet even been considered have been put on hold until land title records that evidence legal authority to use the land on which the hospital can be provided by the State. The records that have so far been provided were found to be incomplete.