Guam - The first of three public hearings on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement kicked off this weekend drawing hundreds of island residents voicing both support and opposition to the buildup.

"I'm here to learn more about what's planned for our islands...this is essentially a make or break time," said Moneka De Oro. As a member of the Our Islands Are Sacred organization, she was one of nearly a hundred island residents who came out this weekend during the Navy's first open house and public hearing on the Draft SEIS at Okkodo High School. "Again this process, this Draft Environmental Impact Statement wasn't prepared by people who know this island intimately - it wasn't written by people who have the island's best interest at heart, so it's important for me to learn what their view point is and perspective is and also offer our viewpoint and perspective from people who do call this place home," she added.

And while some had concern, others like Guam Chamber of Commerce president David Leddy came to show their support. "If the outcomes of this meeting will heavily weigh on whether the buildup happens or not on Guam, so we're out here to show our support and we're hoping many people will understand the value of what this buildup is going to bring to Guam shows up and speaks up as well," he explained.

And it's feedback like this that deputy assistant secretary for the Navy Joseph Ludovici was looking forward to. "So we're looking for the public's participation, we've done a lot of research and study - we have an idea of the potential impacts could be and we could respond to them but this is important to us because we want to hear everything and it's been helpful to us to this point to make sure we're considering and including comments from the public," he said.

The nearly 1,400-page document gives an overview on the proposal to construct and operate a cantonment and live fire training range complex to support the Marines relocation from Okinawa to Guam. Along with the SEIS, HR4402 proposing a surface danger zone at Ritidian has sparked controversy from lawmakers and landowners. Ludovici says the firing range would only impact about 12% of the overall refuge that is already available to the public.

As for the impact the SDZ would have? Ludovici said, "I understand in that 100 acres that would be available and remain available to the public, there's like three caves and there's a number of areas that would still be available even when we're firing on that other part, I'm told there's one cave and I don't know how many other sights so I think it's only limited access during a certain period but I don't think it would be damaged at all by the surface danger zone."

He further reiterated that HR4402 would simply remove a legal impediment for the preferred alternative adding without it, the buildup could be delayed. But for Matthew Artero, he feels the SEIS doesn't look out for the people. "A glaring problem with the SEIS is it contains mitigation for the negative impacts for the environmental, animal, plants and insects but there is no mitigation for the future negative impacts on human beings insects are protected more than people," he said.

Others like Phil Santos with the Chamber's Armed Forces Committee says he supports the buildup and believes the latest document was put together through an intelligent and conscious effort in addressing the concerns of the people. Others like Jesse P. Castro says while he supports the return of Ritidian property to the original landowners, he still supports the buildup.

"My parents' parents did not want to move from Ritidian but they moved because they felt it was for the benefit of the community of Guam if that was not understood then, let it be understood now that doesn't mean we don't want our land back, we want our land back, but we also understand the importance of the military to the security of the Pacific," he said.

Others like John Robertson believes the military can be relied upon to do the right thing. "Some restrictions on access to a small portion of Ritidian is in my opinion a small sacrifice for us in exchange for our local security and fulfilling our responsibility toward national defense," he said.

Speaker Judi Won Pat, who was given a tour of Ritidian this past week, says the HR4402 and the preferred alternative would limit the thousands of local students from visiting the site. "I do not believe this area is compatible for the plans for the firing range and it should not be included in the SDZ we've been made to believe that the use of these sites for training is a small sacrifice compared to economic boom our island will experience from the buildup but in my close reading of the SEIS, I've learned that our island's economic activity would only slightly improve our tax revenues will only see a slight 3% increase by the end of the construction phase," he said.

She further raised concern over how the SEIS states the costs of goods, services and housing will rise and push people on the verge of poverty or even homelessness. She says the military needs to provide greater guarantees that the buildup will benefit the government and the people of Guam. 

The second open house is taking place this evening at the Father Duenas Memorial School Phoenix Center until 7pm with a public hearing to follow thereafter until 9pm. The final open house is set for the former William McCool school in Santa Rita on Wednesday.