GTA: Historic preservation officer's conflict of interest stalls Guam's critical telecom projects
By Mar-Vic Caguarangan
GTA TeleGuam Holdings has 25 projects that have been stalled for two years due to the Guam Historic Preservation Office’s refusal to act on the company’s pending applications for certificates to allow the work to proceed, according to the company's top executive. In a complaint filed with the Office of the Attorney General, GTA president Roland Certeza alleged that the agency’s “arbitrary and unreasonable actions or inaction” were motivated by a “conflict of interest” on the part of historic preservation officer Patrick Lujan, who also owns Guam Sports News Network. Certeza believes Lujan was giving GTA the runaround in “retaliation” for the company’s rebuff of Lujan’s request for a sponsorship to support the sports network's 10-year anniversary in 2021, affecting projects that include critical federally-funded work.
“At the time that Lujan sent his proposal, GTA had several applications for GTA projects pending before him for approval,” Certeza said. In response to Lujan's request, GTA executive vice president Dan Tydingco agreed to provide -- and did provide -- a wireless router and connectivity to GSPN for live-streaming broadcasts during the Covid pandemic, Certeza said.
Lujan also allegedly asked GTA to provide cell/internet service and products for GSPN staff not to exceed $750 per month and $750 per month cash. “The GTA services sought by Lujan were quite expensive, considering that each line would only cost about $85 per line,” the GTA president said.”In addition, the $750 per month cash contribution solicited by Lujan would have amounted to $9,000 per year for a two-year commitment, for a total of $18,000.”
During a meeting in early October 2021, Nate Denight, GTA's vice president of marketing, tentatively agreed to provide the additional services and products Lujan had requested. However, Certeza said, the meeting ended with no commitment or agreement by GTA.
A few days later, Lujan informed GTA that IT&E accepted his proposal to partner with GSPN.
Since then, GTA's dealings with the agency have gone south. “For the past two years GTA has written almost monthly communications to GHPO requesting the status of its applications,” Certeza said. Despite the historic preservation agency’s “oral commitments that the applications will be reviewed,” Certeza said, “nothing further transpires."
On May 1, GTA sent Sunshine Act requests to the GPHO board and the Department of Parks and Recreation asking for documents supporting the agency’s “imposition of arbitrary and illegal requirements” for GTA's projects, and raising concerns about Lujan’s “conflict of interest.”
“It is apparent that GHPO and Lujan are engaging in retaliatory conduct against GTA for raising Lujan's conflict of interest,” Certeza said.
When reached for comment via email, Lujan said, "It's sad that Dan Tydingco has stooped to this level to even suggest this. It shows his lack of integrity and professionalism that he has to resort to these types of accusations."
Lujan, who is with the Air Force Reserve, said he is currently on his mandatory military duty off-island for a few more weeks. "I can expand more upon my return," he added.
GTA is currently engaged in building and expanding Guam's critical telecommunications infrastructure on Guam, Certeza said. “More stringent and arbitrary requirements were imposed by Lujan and GHPO that were not previously imposed on GTA's prior applications,” he said.
Some of GTA’s pending projects include the $29.7 million U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Reconnect 3 grant project to build broadband in southern villages.
Certeza said the Reconnect 3 grant project, which aims to provide underserved villagers with telephone, TV and internet service, “is a necessity when there is an emergency or there is a life or death situation.” “When GHPO fails or refuses to act upon GTA's applications, these villagers are deprived of telephone and other services,” he said. “GTA has been flooded with complaints by customers that it is taking too long to relocate their services.”
Other projects include a submarine cable infrastructure at the Alupang cable landing and FAA’s Santa Rosa fiber building project for military and civil aviation. Of the 29 certificate applications filed by GTA since 2021, Certeza said only four have been approved.
For the rest of the projects, he said. the historic preservation office has imposed unreasonable requirements not sanctioned by Guam law.
Certeza said Lujan has required GTA to shoulder the cost of archeological field research in Alupang, which is among the preservation office's tasks under the law.
“To date, GTA has paid archaeologists over $500,000 for field research requirements directed by GHPO,” Certeza said. “GHPO controls how much money GTA spends on archaeology but there is no requirement under the law that GTA be responsible for these costs and expenses.”
These tasks and related expenses, he said, should be covered by the Historic Preservation Archaeological Mitigation Fund.
Certeza also challenged Lujan’s order to stop all construction within 20 meters of each of the two sites that are covered by the Alupang project until the company excavated “a five-meter radius around the project areas.
The GTA president said the company’s 29 applications involve sites that have already been disturbed and have buried infrastructure that has been in place for decades. “GHPO has, or should have, a database or list of areas, such as roads, easements and rights-of-way which have buried infrastructure that has been in place for years,” he said. “There is no need for additional archaeological surveys or studies for areas that have already been disturbed, unless GHPO's own database, archives and records have revealed new information,” he added. Certeza also questioned the authority of state archaeologist John Mark Joseph to interfere with the process related to the GTA projects. “It is the Guam Historic Preservation Officer who is mandated by law to issue such requirements, not Joseph. Joseph is requiring GTA to produce research designs and village histories and evaluations within a quarter-mile radius of the pathway GTA is seeking approval for, and other work plans, all at GTA's expense, in order to approve GTA's applications,” Certeza said. “There is no statutory basis or procedure for requiring such extraneous work, much less that they should be done at GTA's expense.”
In his complaint with the Office of the Attorney General, Certez asked that Lujan be removed from the GTA application process “due to his conflict of interest; and Joseph be stopped from “issuing decisions and determinations which violate Guam law.”