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Lawyers want comment period extended

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - Lawyers for the National Trust for Historic Preservation have written to Assistant Secretary to the U.S. Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, expressing concern about the National Environmental Policy Act process for the Guam and CNMI military relocation.   

In a letter dated August 9, Matthew Adams, an attorney with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, the firm representing the trusts on a pro bono basis, cites statements from the Joint Guam Program Office regarding the type of comments that will be reviewed on the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

"Comments that have not been included in the DEIS of the 10,000, it has to be something new that has not been brought up in those previous 10,000 comments," explained MSIC Major Neil Ruggerio, spokesman for JGPO.  "That is not the law", counters Adams in his letter to Pfannenstiel. He writes  "Neither the   National Environmental Protection Act or the Council on Environmental Quality's NEPA regulations, nor the Department of the Navy's NEPA regulations places any sort of limit on the type or quantity of comments on a Final EIS."

We Are Guahan's Attorney Leevin Camacho supports the trusts efforts, telling KUAM News, "From what I understand, the National Preservation Trust, they really just want to make sure the DoD is following NEPA and that's been the law that has governed this whole process."

Former senator Hope Cristobal of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice objects to any censoring of comments, saying, "We still have the three main issues and that's the live firing range the ballistic missile defense system to be put in place.  And, of course, the berthing so as long as it pertains to those three issues anything should be entertained should be considered."

In the letter to Pfannensteil, Attorney Adams writes that it would be appropriate for the Department of the Navy to issue a public notice correcting JGPO's statement.  When reached for comment today, Maj. Ruggiero said the office is aware of the letters sent to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. A response, he says, will be shared with the media when available.

Adams also writes that an extension of the 30-day comment periods would be appropriate. Cristobal agrees, explaining, "20,000 pages is a lot to digest.  And for attorneys, they are more adept at these kinds of things.  But for the normal people the people on the street this is just too much, so I think and extension would be most welcome."

Meanwhile, during a visit to Guam last month lawyers for the trusts said they are considering legal action if the military moves forward with their proposed plans for Pagat.  Cristobal says We Are Guahan is considering similar action.  "A possible lawsuit is definitely needed," he projected.  "We need to make sure that JGPO and the DoD know that it is not okay that traditional lands be used military purposes or for the military expansion."

Whether or not the two trusts plans to protect the area will result in a lawsuit may soon be known. Attorneys for the trust are expected to release a plan of action after the 30-day wait period, now just a few weeks away.

Meanwhile in a second letter addressed to Pfannenstiel, Adams writes the briefing conducted in July at the University of Guam failed to provide a detailed description of the contents of the Final EIS and to provide the public with an opportunity to ask questions about that document and the military relocation project. He added that slides of the presentation in July were not distributed to the public and that the panel closed the meeting leaving several questions unanswered.

As well, he said, the limited capacity of the venue also compromised the objective of the briefing.

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