Northwest Field: the costly option
A concerned citizen, a politician, and someone working for the Department of Defense (DoD) walk into a meeting. The journalists report on it. The DoD worker gets the benefit of the doubt. The politician may or may not be working to hold the DoD as a developer accountable (but no longer has task forces comprised of local experts to verify or challenge the DoD-developer’s reports and claims). And the concerned citizen is largely ignored or told by well-paid politicians to continue volunteering their time to keep developers accountable.
A really bad joke with no punch line in sight? I wish. Welcome to the reality of a group of concerned citizens trying to ensure our fresh water lens is safeguarded and a successful conservation area is protected as conservation areas are meant to be.
The article published by Pacific Island Times Nov. 7 entitled, “Battle rages over the Guam Northwest Field firing range project” follows much of the scenario outlined above.
Though the DoD has been found in non-compliance countless times in various US courts and is currently being challenged in federal court specifically for lack of due diligence and non-compliance regarding their studies in the Marianas, the article provides DoD the benefit of the doubt, stating that the materials that DoD brought to the roundtable reflected their “compliance with applicable Federal laws and promises made to Guam” which the journalist then labeled as “due diligence.”
To state that these conditions have been met when this position is being challenged both by experts in public discourse and in the federal courts is misleading though, unfortunately, predictable.
Citizens’ concerns were relegated to being described simply as “raw emotion” and reactions to “injustices.” To be sure those were present, but they were not all that concerned citizens were armed with. Hard hitting questions were asked about a variety of concerns such as the types of chemicals DoD will be testing for in order to be able to ensure the safety of our fresh water lens over which their range will sit, potentially leaching lead contaminants, fuel, pesticides, and herbicides to which DoD could not adequately answer.
While advocates did ventilate some of their valid concerns, the roundtable, actually did not allow much opportunity to follow up on, question, or correct DoD’s vague, incomplete, or incorrect statements. For example, Col. Bien erroneously stated that there will be no direct impacts to the ancestral village of Litekyan while the SEIS states otherwise, that indeed there will be significant direct impacts. Further, the incorrect statement hides that there will be significant indirect impacts as well, including increased difficulty for original landowners to get lands returned. (See, SEIS 2015: 5-345, 348, 391 & 2)
Among many other concerns raised, the HPO and Prutehi Litekyan : Save Ritidian objected to the lack of intensive archaeological survey of Urunao, Litekyan, Pahon, and Jinapsan to Section 106 standards. All DoD has done thus far, as stated by DoD officials, was to merely identify sites not actually survey them. Why is this important? If you just identify a site without actually surveying it, then you have no idea what is lost if you bulldoze it or otherwise disturb it. Further, it is not clear whether all sites within the Surface Danger Zone and Noise Zones were even identified.
DoD repeatedly, and this article follows suit, fails to mention that Northwest Field is one of our most successful conservation areas situated within a significant portion of some of the last 5 percent of our pristine limestone forests. It’s not just some land that they propose to bulldoze but a highly specialized forest that developed over millions of years. DoD also do not mention that when they experiment with a never tried before recreated forest of this sort, that 50 percent, maybe as much as 80 percent, of our threatened and endangered native species, that are currently thriving in their habitat, may not survive their translocation (e.g., Biological Opinion 2017: 42-46). Rare native trees 60 or more years old will be bulldozed. Just their seeds that will be planted, if those seeds sprout, if those saplings survive to adulthood.
Our conservation clock will be set back decades. Scientists are very concerned. There is no guarantee the forest will work. There is no guarantee our special animals will do well in it.
Northwest Field is not their only option, just the most costly to the community