House accepts HR4402 as defense act amendment - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

House accepts HR4402 as defense act amendment

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - After making its way through the Rules and Natural Resources Committees and barely surviving opposition from landowners and local lawmakers, controversial HR4402 has officially been voted by the House of Representatives as an amendment into the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.

After initially drawing back HR4402 a few weeks ago due to concerns from original landowners and local lawmakers, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo controversial measure has made its way back as an amendment into the NDAA after an official vote today by the full House. "I have been and remain a staunch advocate for the military buildup on Guam," she told KUAM News, "and I believe this bill keeps the process moving forward and including in the markup and ultimately in the defense authorization bill ensures that we have no unnecessary delays."

The full House voted to include HR4402 hours after Bordallo testified before the House Natural Resources Committee today. Bordallo's amendment authorizes the Navy and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to enter into an agreement for the designation of a surface danger zone over the National Wildlife Refuge at Ritidian. This SDZ is necessary should northwest field be ultimately selected as the location for a live fire training range complex for the Marines relocation from Okinawa to Guam.

"And I believe this bill in the nature of a substitute to HR4402 will keep the Navy and the FWS talking about the impacts of a firing range at northwest field. In fact I believe this legislation is important to keep the NEPA process on track so that these two agencies can discuss potential mitigations should this location be advanced in the process," she added.

During the House Natural Resources Committee hearing, Bordallo said she fully respects and appreciates the island community's close engagement on the issues especially during this past week's SEIS public meetings in which she was in attendance. "I was also able to hear directly from our community on HR4402 this past week and community feedback is absolutely critical to the process it provides the Navy and other stakeholders with important viewpoints to consider when final decisions are made for the Record of Decision," the delegate continued.

"And with the recent weeks comment that people have been making apparently it didn't make much of an impact because of course it was reintroduced," commented Chris Bejado, whose family owns property on Ritidian and was one of hundreds of people who attended the SEIS and publically spoke in opposition to HR4402. As for the Ritidian families, he says they don't want to be reactive to what's happening but instead trying to understand the full ramifications of what's involved.

"With the congresswoman's reintroduction of the bill, it's tough, we are disappointed with the reintroduction, but what are we going to do at this point at least we said what we needed to say, we are at the table somewhat to discuss the issues our issues are brought to light in the public eye so in a way that's a positive for us," he said.

As we reported it was in 1963 when the federal government took the property at Ritidian under eminent domain. While families thought they were going to see the return of their land in 1993 when the US military deemed it excess, it instead was taken by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and turned into a refuge. Today, Speaker Judi Won Pat says it has always been the position of the legislature and hers personally that if lands are going to be returned by the feds they should go back to the original landowners which is why she did not support the placement of the refuge at Ritidian nearly 20 years ago. 

She says, "I have consistently expressed that HR4402 does not address the concerns of the original landowners as it further compromises their ability to ever get their lands returned and it limited their existing access to Ritidian." Won Pat adds that she is disappointed that Bordallo failed to mention the over 1,000 signatures that were gathered on a petition opposing the bill during the House Natural Resources Committee along with the testimonies at the SEIS meetings against the SDZ.

Bordallo meanwhile says HR4402 is important to keep the NEPA process on track and keeps both the Navy and FWS talking about the potential impacts of a firing range on Northwest Field. 
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