Ritidian families sound off against Bordallo's legislation - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Ritidian families sound off against Bordallo's legislation

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - In the nation's capitol today controversial HR-4402 had a public hearing before a congressional subcommittee. The measure was introduced by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo who has recently come under fire from Ritidian families who feel they have been betrayed.

Bordallo said, "I have introduced this legislation because of a possible impediment for allowing a possible surface danger zone over the Guam National Wildlife Refuge - it is our understanding that having an SDZ over the refuge may or may not be compatible with the intent of having a refuge on Guam. So this hearing is necessary to receive the views of Fish and Wildlife and the Navy on this issue."

And while Bordallo received testimony on HR-4402 an ocean away, here at home the descendants of the original heirs to lands at Ritidian were blasting her bill. During a roundtable discussion on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact statement on the Guam military buildup.

Unlike the 2010 EIS - the 2014 Draft SEIS moves the proposed live fire training range complex for the marines from Pagat to Northwest Field. Catherine McCollum and Christopher Bejado are second generation descendants. The former said, "My heart is heavy today with knowledge that the surrounding areas of detachment five will be used a firing range. Landowners in Urunao and possibly Jinapsan will be restricted from using their properties through the best use 36 weeks out of the year this is totally ludicrous."

Bejado added, "Now this recent proposal uses military and federal lands on Northwest Field but is directly aimed at the Ritidian area and the Wildlife Refuge. I understand that its set back from the cliffside but it still does not  make sense to be shooting in the proximity of  site that has  been deemed an area with endangers species a turtle nesting site and whatever natural species the us fish and wildlife is supposedly trying to protect."

This is the latest fight with the feds for Ritidian families. Their land like many other properties were taken away under eminent domain. In 1993 Ritidian was deemed excess by the US military, however instead of it being returned to original landowners. "Based on a federal government protocol the land was snatched by the US Fish and Wildlife and turned into a wildlife refuge," said Bejado.

According to Bejado and McCollum not only do they oppose the live fire training range they feel completely blindsided by the congresswoman's introduction of HR-4402 on April 4th of this year that's because they actually met with her on Guam the day after. McCollum said, "No mention of this bill was told to us. Only that she supported the land return of Ritidian to us and that she would like to see US Fish and Wildlife removed from the area. She even supported introducing a Guam Lands Return Act of 2014 we left the meeting feeling hopeful now we feel totally betrayed."

Bejado said, "We walked out of that meeting with very positive feelings that the Ritidian families best interest would be something that she would keep in mind for future reference but not a mention of that bill which was proposed in Congress on April 4th the day before we met was ever brought up in our meeting with the congresswoman.,"

HR-4402 authorizes the secretary of the Navy to establish a surface danger zone over the Guam National Wildlife Refuge or any portion thereof to support the operation of a live fire training range complex.  It would also authorize the secretary of the Navy to close the refuge and any portion of it to the public.  During today's hearing in Washington, DC the congresswoman recognized the struggle of Ritidian landowners while at the same time noted the importance the live fire training range complex is for the Marines relocation.

"And I do look forward to their input in the process it is necessary that congress and the Navy consider this and hear from the people of Guam given the importance of the live fire training range to the rebalance," he said. Bordallo said, "I hope this whole exercise will provide us with time. Explore alternatives for the Wildlife Refuge for the future there are other areas in Guam and the region where a wildlife refuge could be located to meet the national goal of preserving and rejuvenating species. I think so I fully support this effort and will work to address the landowners concerns in the long term."

In the meantime for Ritidian landowners they don't plan to give up their fight, as Bejado said, "We will never stop fighting and bringing up the issues that are important to the return of our lands maybe these lands will not be returned in my life time but I want my children to understand that the history and the wrong that has been done with regard to the occupation of the US Navy and now the US Fish and Wildlife needs to be righted."

Meanwhile SEIS alternative for the live fire training range at Northwest Field has created an intergovernmental struggle between the Navy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service/

Guam Program Office director Joseph Ludovici was among those that testified today on Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo's HR-4402. He stressed the importance of the live fire training range for the Marines relocation to Guam, calling it a critical component. Ludovici told said the it was essential in maintaining training and readiness of Marine Corps personnel on Guam as required by federal law.  He added the surface danger zone designation as proposed in HR-4402 is a safety requirement.

Ludocivi said the Department of the Navy has been working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior to address their concerns about the impact the range would have on the Ritidian unit and whether it can be implemented lawfully and in a manner that is both consistent with purposes for which the Ritidian wildlife refuge was established and which meets the Marine Corps purpose and need.

However Ludocivi said they have not identified a solution, and cautioned that even if they can deconflict both the Fish and Wildlife Service and Marine Corps missions, legal obstacles may remain in that are impossible to overcome.  The Navy is hoping for expeditious resolution because the timeline associated with a decision is March 2015. The purpose of HR-4402 according to Ludovici provides the flexibility that may be necessary if the legal restrictions that would prohibit consideration of Northwest Field as a reasonable alternative cannot be remedied through their current interdepartmental efforts.

Meanwhile National Wildlife Refuge system chief Jim Kurth also testified during today's hearing. Like Ludocivi he said he looked forward to continuing the dialogue to assess all options to ensure the military's training missions are accomplished in a manner that minimizes delitorious impacts to the refuge and the species it was established to conserve. Kurth testified that Guam National Wildlife Refuge protects important cultural resources as well as contains the oldest known and longest lasting ancient Chamorro settlement site. During today's hearing he requested additional time to work with the Department of Navy in finding a resolution to the issues with surrounding the Marine Corps critical training requirement.
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