Briefings held on USMC's training/firing ranges - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Briefings held on USMC's training/firing ranges

by Nick Delgado

Guam - With the release of the final environmental impact statement just around the corner, it seems there's still some confusion as to where the military plans to construct a firing range to accommodate the Marines' training.  During a teleconference lawmakers as well as others in the community voiced their concerns, as they feel that they might not have a say when the military does decide just where that site might be.  

There were two meetings held today for elected leaders and stakeholders to learn more about what went into deciding the preferred training ranges needed for the Marines.  The first was held at one am this morning via teleconference; while the other was held just before lunch time via videoconference between the Joint Guam Program Office and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The event was facilitated by Guam Congressional Delegate Madeline Bordallo's office, but we were denied access.

Although we were turned away, KUAM News was able to sit-in on the teleconference held at 1am Tuesday this where senators gathered to listen to a presentation made an ocean away in the nation's capitol. The purpose of the teleconference was to allow the JGPO and the U.S. Marines Corps the opportunity to present to the CEQ how they went about selecting the proposed sites and preferred alternatives for the firing and training ranges needed for the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

JGPO Executive Director David Bice said that the process in selecting property for a Marine firing range came under the direct guidance of the Department of Defense to maximize federal property on Guam, as well as consider the safety of those using the range along with the surrounding community. Bice says JGPO ruled out a number of proposed sites due to the size, including Navy Barrigada, Apra Heights, Drydock Island, Mt. Santa Rosa, Naval Hospital, and Potts Junction. Other areas ruled out due to incompatibility for surrounding areas include Andersen Air Force Base, Northwest Field, Andersen South, Tarague Beach, Orote Point, and Naval Magazine.

We Are Guahan representative Leevin Camacho was at briefing at the delegate's office this morning, and said, "One of the reasons why they got rid of the other options is because of anticipated public concern, we're all here and Pagat has been such a tough issue because the public is concerned." And Pagat was the biggest part of the discussion, as the military has deemed the preferred site a good location for Marine training.

Marine Corps Head of Range Development Tom Shear explained the types of ammunition the Corps will be using, which includes several training rounds that emit an orange powder in an effort to prevent any fire hazards. He adds that there will be no damage to the lusongs or lattes on the historic site if it is selected.

Lawmakers raised several concerns about the use of the Pagat land and questioned why Resolution 275 that states no action on Pagat be taken seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

"It's a dog and pony show for me," summarized speaker of the 30th Guam Legislature Judi Won Pat.  "They gave us papers to follow through but no matter what we said if this was the preferred site, why don't they just come right out and say this is it, stop dragging us through all this and say it's notional, tell us and stop it right now and let's start talking then."

Said Shear in response, "If it wasn't made clear earlier we were trying to make it clear that the no action alternative or not using these training ranges is one of the options at the end of the day, when the decision has to be made in the record of decision that will follow the final environmental impact statement, so the consideration of not going to these training ranges is on the table.  The object of this briefing was to describe what actions could be considered should the decision go forward with the relocation of Guam. So that's why we tried to emphasize throughout this briefing that these things were notional."

Vice-Speaker B.J. Cruz expressed disappointment about the lack of notice on the briefing, as he feels the military's notion of Pagat is misleading. Senator Frank Blas, Jr. also questioned what the military plans to do if the preferred site in Pagat does not work out. However, the feds reacted to most of the concerns by stating that nothing is official, and that most of the details will become clearer in the final EIS. The military also admits that the final EIS would explain why other areas like Tinian were not selected to host a firing range.

The feds also mentioned a range management plan that would keep the public informed of the training activity, as well as let the community know when they can visit the site. However, more concerns were raised by the a representative from Fuetsan Famala'oan's Lisa Cipollone, who asked National Historic Preservation Trust officials how they felt about Pagat being considered as it was recently designated as one of America's 11 most endangered historic sites.

In the meantime, participants like Department of Agriculture's Tino Aguon feels the briefing only led to more unanswered questions from the feds, saying, "I believe there are more questions that came out of this.  And so we look forward to seeing future discussions and how this will impact."

Military Buildup Chair Senator Judi Guthertz also expressed frustration, stating that those providing the briefing deflected pointed questions about Pagat's range plans. Guthertz says she was not satisfied when she asked how the military plans to get the land, and Bice stated, "negotiate".  Likewise, some felt that the two-hour briefing did not allow them enough time to have their concerns addressed, such as Senator Tina Muna Barnes, who feels the feds think that the people of Guam are, in her words, "third-class citizens".

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