Anumita Kaur Pacific Daily News
Published 10:43 PM EDT Jul 3, 2019
Senators and residents Wednesday night said laws need to be changed to protect Guam’s culture and resources.
“Essentially, we have discovered that agreements that were put into place no longer serve the interest of our natural resources, our water, our land,” Sen. Telena Nelson said.
The legislature’s public hearing room overflowed with residents sharing testimony largely in support of a resolution asking the governor to push for a pause on construction across the live-fire training range complex. The resolution was signed by 13 out of 15 senators last week, after numerous discoveries were made across Marine Corps properties in May and June. The governor’s office has not provided comment.
In a written testimony, Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, Joint Region Marianas commander, stated that the Department of Defense is following all procedures for cultural and historic preservation on Guam.
‘Followed federal law’
“Criticisms that the military was haphazard, disrespectful or otherwise flawed in following federal processes to ensure protection and preservation of historically and culturally significant sites are inaccurate,” Chatfield said. “Our actions demonstrate that we have followed federal law throughout the course of our undertaking, maintained dialogue with participating parties to the programmatic agreement and complied with the provisions that were developed to ensure preservation of Guam’s rich cultural history.”
The laws and 2011 Programmatic Agreement need to be changed, Nelson said. The agreement between the military and the Guam State Historic Preservation Office outlines how the military should minimize impacts on historical and cultural sites as the buildup proceeds.
“The argument is that the Department of the Navy is working within the parameters of the programmatic agreement, and they’re following environmental laws in regards to the development of the firing range,” Nelson said. “What I am seeing here today, we need to readjust these laws and the programmatic agreement.”
“This is is something we’re trying to examine,” she said. “If this is a possibility, I would like to move forward with it.”
Four hours of public statements covered a range of concerns regarding the live-fire training complex’s construction, including potential contamination of the Northern Guam Lens Aquifer, which is a critical source of the island’s fresh water; hazards for the critically endangered Serenthii nelsoni tree and other natural features; return of lands to original owners; and access to and preservation of cultural sites.
‘How many times do we have to say no?’
These issues and more are a slow but sure process of destruction of the island’s resources, said Kenneth Gofigan-Kuper, but rejecting the military’s plans for Guam often paints residents negatively.
“We are called uncompromising; we are called unrealistic; we are called overly-sensitive; we get criticized for not being good community partners,” said Kenneth Gofigan-Kuper. “We must stop living in a permanent state of mitigation.”
The fight for Guam’s cultural and natural resources has gone on too long, many attendees said.
“How many times do we have to say no? How many ways do we have to say no?” said Shannon Siguenza. “If the Department of Defense truly wishes to minimize damage to our cultural heritage, our pleas for a stop would be listened to.”
Most testimonies either supported the resolution’s call for a pause across the live-fire training range complex or called for a halt on the buildup altogether. One testimony opposed the resolution, citing economic benefits of the buildup.
Joe Arnett, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce board, cited economic concerns in the case of an indefinite pause at a chamber board meeting last week, stating that such a scenario may throw contractors into limbo. The Guam Chamber of Commerce, as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, did not submit testimony regarding the resolution.
‘Going to the U.S. Senate’
The resolution is not about supporting or opposing the buildup, Nelson said. It’s about pausing construction because of the numerous discoveries of ancient artifacts. The pause would allow a thorough investigation.
The military, as per the 2011 Programmatic Agreement, has stopped construction and flagged off sites where discoveries were made, removing archaeologically valuable content and preserving it off-site. Overall construction at Northwest Field continues.
The fear, Sen. Therese Terlaje said, is that the ongoing construction outside of the flagged off sites will potentially destroy more historic sites.
If the military says no to the proposed pause, the case for a pause will not rest.
“Really, it’s a matter of going to the U.S. Senate,” Nelson said.
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