Dueling press releases: Navy v. Guam environmental advocates over Ritidian firing range
Kelly Marsh-Taitano (left) Rear Admiral Shoshana Chatfield
As the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) is announcing a $40 million contract with a Hawaii-based firm for support of its environmental restoration program in the Pacific, environmental advocates from the Guam Prutehi Litekyan-Save Ritidian group are expressing disappointment over a meeting with Rear Admiral Shoshana Chatfield over the firing range issue.
NAVFAC did not mention Ritidian as part of the work to be done by Element Environmental LLC of Aiea, Hawaii. "The work to be performed provides for conducting environmental and safety related studies at various locations," the release said. "The services may include the preparation of analytical studies, reports and management plans; technical evaluations; permit applications, preliminary engineering designs; cost estimates and supporting documents for corrective projects; and performing monitoring, testing and inspection actions."
Meanwhile, the Save Ritidian group was much more specific about its objections to the Live Fire Training Range Complex at Tailålo (Northwest Field) with direct and indirect impacts to Urunao, Ritidian, Pahon and Inapsan.
"The group met with [Joint Region Marianas Commander] Rear Admiral [Shoshana] Chatfield about these concerns and asked for a pause in the ongoing construction activity to prevent irrevocable environmental and cultural damage. Prutehi Litekyan-Save Ritidian continues to ask that DOD live up to the One Guam principle that DoD committed itself to at the outset of the military build up. The principle of One Guam is essentially that the military build-up be is as good for us outside the fence as it is for those inside the fence."
"Out of all the many choices that DoD has on Guam," the Save Ritidian release continues, "including expanding the four or five existing ranges, DOD selected the site that their own studies very clearly say will cause the most harm during construction and the most harm for the decades they will operate a Live Fire Training Range Complex. When Prutehi Litekyan asked DoD representatives at yesterday’s meeting why they chose the most harmful choice, they offered no answer. By choosing to cause the most irreparable harm, DoD is asking our community to sacrifice our one special place that we’ve held in trust for our children because it is convenient for them. This is absolutely not as good for us outside the fence as it is for those inside the fence.
"Prutehi Litekyan pointed out to Admiral Chatfield and her aides that there is no rush in causing irreparable damage to Tailålo, Urunao, Litekyan, Pahon, and Inapsan since the marines are not even scheduled to arrive on Guam until 2025 or later. Prutehi Litekyan has asked for a pause in the preconstruction activities and stop its irreparable destruction so that both sides have an opportunity to forge a way forward that truly is a One Guam approach. Prutehi Litekyan also asked for the pause in light of the pending lawsuit in the Northern Mariana Islands that may change the trajectory of the sites selected for the military build-up throughout the Marianas.
"DoD’s response however, was to explain how they are planning to be careful and to mitigate the harm they were creating. When Prutehi Litekyan noted that this involved bulldozing some of the special elements of our environment including a limestone forest that took thousands of years to develop, DoD responded that clearing the forest would be an exciting opportunity for scientists and others to experiment with how to recreate, in a laboratory of sorts, over the next many decades, a forest that was naturally created over thousands of years. DoD’s position was tantamount to cutting down a 3,000 year old redwood tree just to see if it can be recreated.
"When Prutehi Litekyan pressed that what it really wanted answers to why DoD chose the site that causes the most harm, the meeting was abruptly ended and the members were escorted to the parking lot by the Rear Admiral herself."
Meanwhile Vice Speaker Therese M. Terlaje, chairperson of the legislative committee on Culture and Justice, urged Gov, Eddie Baza Calvo to consider the irreversible impacts to historic sites, the environment, and ancestral lands with the clearing of limestone forests in Finegayan and Northwest Field for construction of the cantonment and Live-Fire Training Range Complex.
In her letter to Calvo on Wednesday, Terlaje asked the governor to consider the following:
- That promises in the Programmatic Agreement have not been kept by the military;
- That the discovery of additional historic properties at Northwest Field may require reconsideration;
- That the CNMI pending lawsuit may directly impact these firing ranges;
- That the planned destruction of 187 acres of limestone forest at Northwest Field and the clearing of 683 acres of limestone forest in Finegayan are irreversible;
- That Guam has a longstanding policy to defend Ritidian from federal control; nd
- That the relocation will not begin until 2020
“Certainly the destruction of our limestone forest and wildlife refuge can be put on hold temporarily, while the leaders of Guam work cohesively with government agency leaders and the people of Guam to ensure the preservation of our ancient villages and pristine resource,” Terlaje wrote.
Terlaje also requested that these issues regarding Ritidian be addressed in the Governor’s discussions in Washington D.C., together with the economic impacts of the denial of H-2B visas and the payment of War Claims out of Section 30 funds owed to Guam. “Settlement should include justice for the original landowners, preservation of historic sites, and protection of our limestone forests,” Terlaje said.