The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will expand the restricted area designated for military firing tests on Guam effective Aug. 19, blocking public access to the waters adjacent to Finegayan, the site of the Navy’s small arms range.
“The danger zone is needed for the Department of Defense to meet its mission…, which is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready military forces, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas,” the USACE states in the final rule published in the Federal Register.
“Due to the strategic location of Guam and the Department of Defense's ongoing reassessment of the Western Pacific military alignment, there has been an increase in the importance of the (Finegayan Small Arms Range) as a training and testing venue. The danger zone is necessary to protect the public from hazards associated with small arms training."
The Finegayan firing range is located at the Naval Base Guam telecommunication site on the northwestern coast of Guam.
The proposal for expansion of the firing exercise site was originally published in the Federal Register on Dec. 13, 2018, drawing a total of 45 comments, including requests for a public hearing which was declined by USACE.
“The district engineer has the discretion to not hold a public hearing if he or she determines that there would be no valid interest to be served by a public hearing, or a public hearing would not result in interested parties presenting information that could not be provided to the Corps via comments submitted in response to a proposed rule or a proposed permit action,” the USACE says.
After a careful review of the requests for a public hearing, USACE said it concluded that “a public hearing would not identify issues or concerns that were not already identified and discussed in the comments submitted in response to the proposed rule and the district's public notice.”
The restricted area, designated as a “permanent danger zone,” comprises 892 acres and extending 2.36 miles into the Pacific Ocean from the high tide line.
Pacific Ocean, adjacent to the Finegayan Small Arms Range at Naval Base Guam Telecommunication Site, on the northwestern coast of Guam; danger zone. (a) The area. Coordinates are bounded by the following four points: Point A (13°34′57″ N; 144°49′53″ E) following the high tide line to Point B (13°35′49″ N; 144°47′59″ E), Point C (13°34′57″ N; 144°47′45″ E), and Point D (13°34′48″ N; 144°49′50″ E). The datum for these coordinates is NAD-83.
"Establishment of the danger zone will intermittently prohibit vessels from lingering in the danger zone when the small arms range is in active use in order to ensure public safety,” the USACE states.
There were also requests for additional studies and assessments of the impacts of the firing site expansion for better understanding of the effects of the Mariana Islands Range Complex and training activities on natural resources, historical and cultural resources, the economy and to the people of Guam.
In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act requirements, the Corps said it conducted environmental assessments and concluded that the establishment of the danger zone “would not have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment and therefore does not require the preparation of an EIS.”
The firing test site expansion “would not result in work, structures, or construction within the Pacific Ocean, or any modification to any vegetation, habitat, or structures in the Pacific Ocean, on the shore, or on the land,” USACE said
“With respect to impacts to people on Guam, the danger zone is intended to protect the public from hazards that may result from the use of the FSAR at the Naval Base Guam telecommunication site. The boundaries of the danger zone will be plotted by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on its nautical charts, which will help alert users of those navigable waters to the danger zone.”
The USACE said the final rule is not connected to the 2011 Programmatic Agreement for the establishment of a future Marine Corps base on Guam, and is therefore not required address that potential future action in its NEPA documentation.
“Since the danger zone will be in effect only when the FSAR is in use and the establishment of the danger zone will promote public safety and will not have any physical environmental effects, impacts to the human environment have been minimized,” the final rule states. “The Corps has determined there is no need or requirement for mitigation beyond incorporating into the rule text measures to minimize impacts to maritime traffic and fishing activities.”
The USACE also said the site expansion would not have any impact on Guam’s fishing industry.
“The danger zone restricts the use of navigable waters to protect the public during small arms training activities. It does not involve any actions that have the potential to cause effects to historic properties, cultural resources, or sacred cultural sites," the final rule states.
"There would be no construction, structures, or in-water work associated with the establishment of the danger zone. The Corps acknowledges that there may be temporary disruptions to accessing traditional fishing grounds when the range is in use and has determined that these disruptions would be minimal, and are necessary for safety. When the range is not in use, the danger zone will be open and the waters available to public water users."
The USACE said public access to Haputo Beach, Double Reef, and Tweed's cave "is available via the Joint Region Marianas Public Access Plan for Historic and Cultural Sites when the range is not in use. In addition, coconut crab collection is not authorized on Department of Defense property.”