The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has further expanded the restricted area designated for military firing tests on Guam, covering a wider portion of the waters adjacent to Finegayan, the site of Mason Live Fire Training Range Complex.
“Due to the strategic location of Guam and the Department of Defense's relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, there will be an increased need for training and testing areas on Guam,” the Corps states in the final rule posted Friday on the Federal Register and will take effect on Nov. 8.
Under the revised rule, the restricted area now comprises approximately 3,660 acres extending into the Pacific Ocean approximately 2.8 miles from the north coast of Guam.
“The danger zone would follow the mean high water line of the Pacific Ocean and would not extend shoreward of this line,” the Corps said.
The size of the revised testing area expands from “892 acres and extending 2.36 miles into the Pacific Ocean from the high tide line,” which the Corps initially adopted in August last year.
“Concerning potential consequences for entering the danger zone while it is being used for small arms training, the most immediate consequence would be the potential for being struck by bullets, which on rare occasions may ricochet beyond the range's containment berms," the Corps said.
"This safety hazard is the reason for the establishment of this danger zone, which is to help provide for public safety when the range is in use."
The Corps said the construction of the Mason LFTRC and its associated danger zone is designed to meet the increased need for training exercises.
Declining calls for a public hearing, the Corps said it has determined that 30 days were sufficient to provide comments on the danger zone regulation, which was announced on Oct. 29, 2020.
“The Corps determined that the record for this rulemaking action, including the public comments received in response to the proposed rule, contains adequate information regarding public concerns about the proposed danger zone and that a public hearing was not necessary,” it said.
While acknowledging that blocking public access to the danger zone will occasionally disrupt fishing activities, the Corps sought to reassure residents that such impact would not unreasonably interfere with or restrict the fishing industry.
Because the danger zone will be in effect only when the firing range is in use, vessel operators and fishers will be able to use the navigable waters within the restricted area when no live-fire training exercises are taking place.
In its 2015 supplemental environmental impact statement, the Navy estimated that approximately 65 percent of fishing trips occur on the weekends and 35 percent of fishing trips occur on weekdays.
“Training at the Mason LFTRC will typically occur on weekdays when fewer vessels would potentially be transiting the danger zone. However, periodic weekend use of the Mason LFTRC could occur as needed,” the Corps said.
According to the newly adopted rule, the Marines’ standard for range availability is 242 days per calendar year, and their annual goal is to utilize each range for at least 70 percent of the available days per year, or 169 days if the range is available the entire 242 days.
The Mason LFTRC will consist of five ranges firing small arms up to and including .50 caliber rifles and heavy machine guns. This location, which is part of the Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz facility, meets all of the landside requirements of a small arms range, military officials said.
The Corps said if the Mason LFTRC meets the goal of 169 days per year, then the active areas of the danger zone would be restricted intermittently for 24 weeks.
“Additionally, for the larger of the two areas (Area 1), the danger zone would be activated only for training on larger caliber weapons, which would occur with less frequency,” the final rule states.
"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 presence of the danger zone, and to the text of the regulations governing that danger zone."