Admiral explains his side of the story in fight over property eyed for medical complex
Guam governor Lou Leon Guerrero now has less than 30 days to sign a lease with the US Navy for the use of Eagles Field in Mangilao, to use the Central Guam site to house a 21st Century medical campus. That firm deadline comes after months of negotiations amid outcry from original landowners and the Guam Legislature. KUAM News sat down with the commander of Joint Region Marianas to get some answers.
The deal was no secret, according to one of the top military officials locally. After a stubborn back-and-forth between the administration and senators, the island's media was invited to JRM Headquarters on Thursday morning to discuss the controversial lease for Eagles Field.
"All this discussion was going on and all that stuff," stated Rear Admiral Benjamin Nicholson, "but not once did any of the Legislature pick up the phone and ask me to come talk to them or ask me for any of that stuff. What happened on Tuesday was the governor invited me and the governor invited several members of the Legislature to talk about this."
Nicholson says prior to Tuesday, not one of the senators speaking out against the proposed lease approached him. He denies claims that Eagles Field was ever excess land.
"Although it was listed, the formal process for transfer had not happened," he said.
In January 2021, the Navy’s secretary sent a letter to the governor in which Eagles Field was listed as excess land to be returned to the Government of Guam for public use.
But Nicholson says that was prior to the military’s missile defense engineers concluding that multiple sites are needed to protect the island from missile threats that could come from nations like China. "At that time, there was a thought that there’s going to be one location. When we realized there were multiple locations, at that point we took all of the land that had been listed as excess but not started the process of transfer, and we removed it from the excess list," he said.
He admits the lease will not cost GovGuam a single penny. But there are strings attached, as the commander said that the new hospital must meet certain requirements - such as having a helipad, enough bed capacity for a mass casualty event, medical specialists, and more.
"This was part of the negotiations that happened to ensure that now there's a hospital that can receive a large amount of patients, it has specialty care that dont exist here on Guam, or don’t exist in the numbers here on Guam," Nicholson expained. "Don’t exist in the DoD facilities here on Guam."
If the new hospital does not meet their requirements or if the governor does not sign the lease, Nicholson says Eagles Field will be used for other military purposes such as military housing.
"If the Governor of Guam chooses not to sign this lease within the next 30 days, then the Department of Defense reserves the right to revert the land to use for other military purposes," he said.
But the governor already announced she will sign it.