Military leaders on Friday gave Guam senators a tour of the Serianthes Nelsonii site in Northwest Field, which is at the center of local leaders’ recent call for a suspension on the construction of the live-fire training complex.
GovGuam earlier asked the Navy to put off the firing range project until December 2019 but Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, commander of the Joint Region Marianas, told senators that the scheduled start of construction for the multi-purpose machine gun range is in the spring of 2020.
Senators from the 35th Guam Legislature view the endangered Serianthes nelsonii tree while receiving a brief from Dr. Jim McConnell, University of Guam, Guam Plant Extinction Prevention Program, during a site visit at Northwest Field in Dededo July 12. U.S. Navy photo by Reynaldo Rabara
Military officials told the elected local leaders that the project that has been awarded earlier “is not the range closest to the Serianthes Nelsonii,” an endangered tree.
“I respectfully submit that there is no concern about the timing of the future construction of the Multi-Purpose Machine Gun Range,” Chatfield said in a letter sent to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and senators last week.
During Friday’s tour of the Serianthes nelsonii tree, Chatfield said, "We share the concerns and interest of our island community in respectful and lawful management of our limited cultural and natural resources on the island."
The Navy’s actions, she added, “continue to demonstrate that we have followed federal law throughout the course of our efforts, complied with all provisions that were developed to ensure preservation of Guam's rich cultural and natural resources, and maintained open and transparent dialogue with the community." The admiral explained the location of the tree optimizes protection from proposed activity at Northwest Field. "I believe our mutual objective has been met by the change in the project design to permanently relocate the range sufficiently away from the tree, its saplings and is in compliance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife approved forest buffer zone," said Chatfield.
Al Borja, environmental director for Marine Corps Activity Guam and the future Marine Corps Base, was happy to host the senators so they could see first-hand the conservation efforts being taken. "We are pleased by the interest of our elected officials in the military's efforts to balance construction of the new Marine Corps Base with forest preservation and enhancement," Borja said. "This is a tremendous win for the entire island of Guam that we are investing in propagating growth of endangered plant species in this area of the island, which includes but is not limited to, the Serianthes nelsonii tree and its species."
Guam Sens. Sabina Perez, left, and Clynton Ridgell, center, view the endangered Serianthes nelsonii tree during a site visit at Northwest Field in Dededo July 12.
Chatfield said the Navy and Marine Corps “are engaged in open and transparent dialogue with local leaders throughout this process, and are committed to close collaboration with the government of Guam and regulatory partners in environmental and construction activities for the new Marine Corps Base.”
Speaker Tina Muna Barnes, the oversight chairwoman on the Committee on the Guam Buildup, organized the site visit in response to a request from Minority Leader Wil Castro, Sens. Telo Taitague, Louise B. Muna and Therese Terlaje.
"Seeing is believing. I've heard the grievances and read the complaints. The site visit is one way to validate what is really going on; establishing a legislative fact-finding investigative committee should be our next step," Castro said.
“As policy-makers, I believe it is imperative that we get firsthand knowledge of the issues before we create public policy” Muna Barnes said.
On Friday, Muna Barnes said she received a subsequent request from Terlaje to tour historic archaeological sites as well. “I had my staff reach out to Joint Region Marianas and this will be a subsequent tour I will be taking my colleagues on,” Muña Barnes said.
“It is unfortunate to see a colleague leave us, but I do hope that Joint Region Marianas under the leadership of Rear Admiral (select) John V. Menoni, will continue to work with the Guam Legislature” the speaker said, referring to Chatfield’s appointment to the Naval War College.
“During our meetings, it was apparent that we as a government can improve the capabilities of our regulatory agencies - I have been assured by the Administration that the upcoming budget request will have an appropriation to amplify personnel that are lacking” Muña Barnes said.
The Speaker asked Rear Admiral Chatfield the status of the contract for the firing range closest to the Serianthes Nelsonii.
The Speaker, through the months of dialogue and her research, had discovered that the firing range closest to the endangered tree would not be awarded for another eight to ten months.
Chatfield corroborated the statement, and further corroborated Muna-Barnes’ claim that the earliest that the contract would be awarded to project P-735 the Multi-Point Machine Gun Range would not be until March.