Controversial legislation back on the table - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Controversial legislation back on the table

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Just as the final public hearing wraps on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, it appears controversial HR4402 may be headed back into the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.

For the past few days, island residents have let their voices be heard - like former senator Bob Klitzie who says the buildup would be good for Guam offering more economic opportunity. "I think this is an extremely important undertaking and I'm interested in it that's why I'm here," he explained.

And for others like Mangilao resident Luke Davis he wanted to send the message loud and clear that he's against the buildup. "The reason why this whole supplemental is happening is because of all the protests, the voices that occurred at Pagat, however the military didn't listen well enough so they moved it from one culturally scared place to another culturally sacred place so they're listening but not very well," he shared.

Both were in attendance during the final open house and public hearing on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement at the former McCool school in Santa Rita Tuesday. Joint Guam Program Office director Joseph Ludovici says while feedback has been mixed on the proposal, he says the overall process was positive. "We've grouped the concerns," he explained, "what we hear are concerns about the firing range surface danger zone on the Ritidian refuge we have heard concerns about land returns from Ritidian former property owners that the property currently owned by National Wildlife Service we have heard concerns about traffic and noise and economic impact, so there's a lot of concerns that have been brought up on the contrary there has also been positive support from a number of people about what it does for the economy and security and other aspects so it's not all negative, there's some positive testimony being provided."

And just as the meetings wrapped here at home, back in our nation's capital it appears another proposal that has drawn strong opposition from island residents is moving forward. HR4402 introduced by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo last month appears to be back on the table. It was just a few weeks ago when Bordallo did not offer the measure as an amendment in the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act following concerns from landowners and local lawmakers.

Today however the House Committee on Rules cleared the way for an amended version of HR4402 to be discussed this week for possible inclusion in the proposed FY15 NDAA. HR4402 as we reported would implement a surface danger zone at the US Fish and Wildlife Refuge at Ritidan when the proposed firing range is in operation. The amended version is similar to the compromise language that was developed between the Navy and the FWS lawyers and authorizes both organizations to enter into an agreement for the placement of an SDZ above the refuge. The bill requires measures to maintain the purpose of the refuge along with having the Navy to pay for impacts of the SDZ including relocating facilities of the Wildlife Refuge, mitigation for impacts to wildlife species and the use of Department of Defense personnel for conservation activities normally performed by FWS.

Bordallo has told KUAM that should HR4402 not be included in the NDAA the military buildup could be delayed and there's a possibility of the marines could go elsewhere. JGPO deputy director Darren Alvarez responds, saying, "I know it's something that will help with a legal impediment, it in no way gets rid of the NEPA process or the EIS or any of the things the Navy still has to do, we still have to consult on endangered species, we still have to do all those things and then still come up with a Record of Decision. It it doesn't necessarily mean that it would automatically go into Northwest Field but it certainly helps us to make sure that Northwest Field is what's considered a viable option, so it allows us to continue the process really."

The full House of Representatives is expected to complete consideration of the FY15 NDAA also known as HR4435 by the end of the week. If passed by the House, the bill will then be reconciled with the Senate's version of the NDAA during a conference committee later this year. As for the SEIS, while the public hearings are over, the comment period is still open until June 17.
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