JRM vows transparency, agrees to open defense project updates to the public
Updated: Sep 10, 2022
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Joint Region Marianas has agreed to open the Programmatic Agreement workshops to the public amid mounting calls for a wider community participation in the pre-construction process.
“The annual workshop is specifically intended for the signatories, however, in the spirit of transparency we agreed that there is genuine benefit to the 2011 PA and to the people of Guam in making this information available to the community,” said Adm. Ben Nicholson, JRM commander.
“We are fully cognizant of the fact that these are important decisions made here that will have positive and lasting impressions on the island and region for generations to come,” he added.
JRM on Friday concluded the 10th Annual 2011 Programmatic Agreement Workshop at the Sen. Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum and Education Facility in Hagåtña.
The workshop, which began Thursday, provided a venue for all PA signatories to evaluate achievements, assign tasks and review outstanding requirements since the signing of the 2011 PA.
Nicholson said he acknowledged the cultural sensitivities associated with the military construction work on Guam.
"However, the challenging conversations that have been brought to the table
are important to improve our processes because it is through these
productive conversations that we have, and will continue to preserve and
protect the cultural resources of the island in the Marine Corps
realignment,” Nicholson said in a press release after the workshop.
Earlier in the day, Speaker Therese Terlaje wrote to Nicholson demanding public access to the workshop.
"The public should have full access to this annual PA workshop meeting to hear firsthand information regarding the treatment of our historic properties and receive an update on the Department of Defense’s compliance with the 2011 Programmatic Agreement," Terlaje stated in her letter to the admiral.
She said her office requested in advance of today’s meeting by email a virtual link to the meeting but was not provided a link or a response until 10 a.m.
By then, she said the meeting had already started and many important projects such as the live-fire training range complex, the multipurpose machine gun range, the urban combat training range complex and Camp Blaz were discussed.
Terlaje also requested public tours to the remaining historic sites and properties within the footprints of the construction projects "so that the community can see and feel the cultural landscapes in their rawest forms that will soon be displaced and occupied by these military facilities."
She asked the JRM to "go beyond the minimum requirements of the 2011 Programmatic Agreement in good faith" to ensure that community stakeholders are included in the process and consistently updated on cultural and historic sites,cultural landscapes and ancestral burials.
Nicholson said JRM is committed to maintaining open and transparent communications with the people of Guam and members of the media.
“We are extremely grateful and appreciative of the support that we receive from our community as we continue our mission in the defense of the homeland," he said.
"Therefore it is vital that we allow the public and media to see firsthand the progress being made to protect and preserve artifacts and cultural resources,” Nicholson added.
Albert Borja, the Navy's environmental director, agreed that there is a growing "desire for more public participation" in the PA meetings.
"This is something that we have to work on in coordination with the signatories of the PA, the stakeholders, the historic preservation officer, Patrick Lujan, and other invited signatories," Borja said at a press briefing.
"(Cultural preservation officer) Joe Quinata called for a rethinking of how we disseminate information into context. Our elected officials also spoke about public participation and we would like to work with all the parties concerned," he added.
Borja said the military is committed to the maintenance of cultural and archeological resources beyond the completion of projects.
"We really care about the jobs that we do," he said. "This is not just something that we build now and leave and forget later."
Harry Elliot IV, regional counsel for JRM, said JRM acknowledged the communty's voice. "We may not always agree, but we care deeply, so we are committed to the conversation and transparency-- it will be difficult," he said.
During the two-day workshop, project planners, contractors and other stakeholders presented updates on archaeological work completed at military construction sites, National Register Nominations, future public outreach projects, and natural and cultural resources management.
"The Department of Defense and the Guam State Historic Preservation Office
continue to work together for the benefit of historic preservation," JRM said. "Organizers of the annual workshop shared an online link with stakeholder
groups and members of the public who were interested in observing the
Looking ahead, JRM said, the Navy and Marine Corps will collaborate with the SHPO and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to codify the
parameters of access and to improve processes.