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  • By Mar-Vc Cagurangan

Impact of revised NEPA on programmatic agreement remains unclear

Three more ancient burial grounds found in Magua; Senator Terlaje asks DOD to stop diggings at project sites on Guam

Artifacts removed from historic sites taken by the Office of Sen. Therese Terlaje during a May 23,2019 visit to Finegayan / NCTS area. Photo courtesy of guam Legislature.

Three more burial grounds have been discovered at a military project site in Magua, prompting Sen. Therese Terlaje to call for a freeze on diggings in the area that has been identified as an ancient village.

Magua is the future site of the Marine Corps Base, which will be built to accommodate the U.S. marines who will be relocated to Guam from Okinawa, Japan. Last year, archeologists found different sets of latte-period artifacts in Magua, including shells, ceramic scatters and an earth oven among others.

The most recent archeological finds at the military project site were reported by the Guam State Historic Preservation Office on the heels of President Trump's July 15 directive revising the National Environmental Policy Act by streamlining its regulatory process to expedite approval for federal projects.

Critics said the president's move has weakened the country’s landmark environmental law. The White House, on the other hand, said the NEPA reform reverses "years of burdensome overregulation and administrative abuse" that "have historically delayed projects."

The Joint Region Marianas could not say at this point how the streamlined NEPA would affect the 2011 Programmatic Agreement, which sets environmental guidelines for projects related to the military buildup on Guam and the CNMI.

"The White House just announced these changes last week and it is too early to know if there will/will not be any potential effect on the programmatic agreement that is already in place," said Rick Moore, public affairs officer at JRM. "Any comment that we provide from our level would be speculation at this point."

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Defense construction on Guam's historic sites has been a sore point between the military and the local community.


At the Guam Legislature, Terlaje said during a July 13 informational briefing on Magua, State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick Lujan disclosed that a latte period human burial had been found and a survey of the adjacent area was underway to determine the full scope of the burial grounds.

The burials were found between Magua, marked on a 1676 map as Mahgua, and another historic site in the direction of Route 3.

"These multiple discoveries of burials follow the past refusal by U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to preserve Magua in place, and DoD's deliberate removal of Latte Period latte, lusong, earth ovens, tools, pottery, and other artifacts from the area," Terlaje said.

Prior to being cleared, Terlaje said, Magua was listed as a site eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It is located near a fresh water source, inland from the cliffs above the ancient village of Haputo.

Terlaje is calling for a stop on activity in the ancient village site.


"The clearing of latte and lusong from Magua and the disturbance of the adjacent burial grounds is a serious mistake and a grave injustice to Chamorro heritage and future generations," she said.

"The unilateral decision by DoD to clear latte and other rare village artifacts that survived thousands of years in

Therese Terlaje

known historic sites eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, to unilaterally deem them culturally insignificant or not worthy of avoidance, is contrary to international standards of protection of indigenous cultures, and reminds us of the generations of harm that continue to be perpetuated by the land taking," Terlaje said.

She said despite the community input in prior consultation, the DoD has not sufficiently altered its destructive plans for Magua, Litekyan, or Haputo.

"If we are to prevent another incident like what has happened at Magua, the people of Guam must act united and strategically. I call on our governor, congressman, government agencies and all leaders to halt all further clearing by DoD in the Magua, Haputo, Litekyan, and Fena sites until the U.S. agrees to preservation in place of ancient villages and cultural sites on military controlled property on Guam, and agrees to grant open access to these sites to Guam's children," Terlaje said.

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