FOR IMMEDIATE NEWS RELEASE (September 8, 2017 – Hagåtña) – Vice Speaker Therese Terlaje (D-Yoña), Chairperson for the Committee on Culture and Justice convened an informational briefing yesterday, where dozens of concerned community members including the original Ritidian landowners and their families provided four hours of testimony demanding that the construction of the Live-Fire Training Range Complex (LFTRC) at Northwest Field be paused. Speaker BJ Cruz, Senator Telena Nelson, Senator Wil Castro, Senator Regine Biscoe Lee, Senator Fernando Esteves, and Senator Frank Aguon also attend the briefing, where they asked representatives from Government of Guam agencies to provide updates on the impacts to the limestone forests and historic properties with the proposed construction of the LFTRC.
The military’s 2010 Record of Decision clearly states that the relocation of marines to Guam is contingent on the establishment of a live-fire training range on Guam. However, more recently the military has announced that the relocation is also dependent on the establishment of live-fire ranges on Tinian and a bombing range on Pagan. In a pending lawsuit in the CNMI district court, EarthJustice has argued that the environmental impact statement conducted for the relocation of marines necessarily should have included the assessment of the Tinian and Pagan live-fire ranges, and thus must be redone. The marines are not scheduled to move to Guam until 2020. Vice Speaker Terlaje is adamant that the clearing of the limestone forest and impacts to Ritidian and other historic sites should not proceed until the court case is decided.
Guam’s State Historic Preservation Officer, Lynda Aguon provided significant findings, pointing out that her office previously indicated the Northwest Field as the least favored alternative for the LFTRC, given the location had multiple historical sites that would be directly and indirectly adversely impacted. SHPO Aguon clearly stated that 269 historical properties were counted and recorded, and of those sites, 63 were determined eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places. SHPO Aguon informed senators that she would be working with the Governor’s office to submit a letter the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to seek a comprehensive re-evaluation of the culturally significant settlement site at Ritidian and the impacts of the Surface Danger Zone.
“There are adverse effects happening, which is why we have found sites – 269 sites, not to mention 4 burials that were in place, burials that were there, and probably one that has been reburied. There is a latte set that has a lot of lusongs. You can posit from that, it is a big latte settlement. And going further, in receiving all of these reports (thousands of pages), it is only appropriate that they need to stop, pause everything, do the re-evaluation and get all their reports in order. The state archaeologist is frustrated because these reports are coming in from different writers and they are not syncing, so in consultation we will prepare that letter to the Advisory Council… They may have awarded the contract, but they still have to complete the section 106 process. They can probably begin to develop their design plans, but cannot do any construction activities until the 106 process is cleared, which will be clarified by the Advisory Council,” SHPO Aguon stated, further indicating that direct and indirect adverse impacts would impact areas of Litekyan, Pahon, Jinapsan, Urunao, and Haputo.
In response to the military’s proposed mitigation for the loss of limestone forest species, Tino Aguon of the Department of Agriculture stressed,
“Re-creation is a long process. You can mimic what nature has done, but we have to understand it took nature millions of years to do something that we want to do in a field, so that is a fairly difficult process or something difficult to achieve.”
Other concerns about the loss of access to important fishing areas and the contamination of Guam’s sole water source, the Northern Lens Aquifer, were also discussed. Manny Duenas, of the Guam Fishermen’s Coop testified that the live-fire training range at Ritidian would spoil important fishing areas and prevent access to local fishermen.
“They are going to take 15 square miles of our ocean at Ritidian Point, some of our most pristine waters, and they are going to fire 40 pounds of lead into the water. That’s water quality? Who is going to go out three miles and check?… I promise the military we are going to have 50 to 100 boats parked at Ritidian when these guys start shooting their weapons, until they start mitigating,” Duenas said.
Visiting scholar Rebekah Garrison described the lingering environmental contamination that plagues Vieques, Puerto Rico and Koho’olawe, Hawaii, despite the community actions that successfully ended bombing and other military exercises over 20 years ago. Garrison stated,
“Vieques continues to suffer a 25% higher cancer rate than Puerto Rico… In Koho’olawe, decades worth of bombs lodged into reefs, rocks, and underwater sands remain, leaking into the ocean. Koho’olawe and much of Vieques remain unsafe for human habitation and unfortunately both islands are great examples as to why Litekyan should not be turned into a live-fire training range. You have the power of keeping Litekyan from becoming the next Koho’olawe and Vieques.”
Sinajana resident John Dungca cited the Inifresi and the pledge to protect the land and water of the Chamorro people. He expressed his concerns about Guam’s primary fresh water source,
“When that facility becomes operational, it will be consuming 2 million gallons of water a day… I have questions that haven’t been answered to determine if this is good for Guam… Will the military be a good partner in being good stewards with the Guam Waterworks authority to protect this resource that is our northern aquifer?”
Several representatives of the Ritidian/Litekyan families shared powerful stories of pain and loss over the past several decades. Original landowners from Tiyan and Urunao, and members from Prutehi Litekyan also joined them in solidarity. Cathy Flores McCollum recalled how the Ritidian/Litekyan property was taken from her family by force and without just compensation by the Department of Defense. Decades later, Ritidian was deemed excess property to be returned, however her family and the rest of Guam were forced to witness Congress transfer their property to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. McCollum said many of the Ritidian families are moved by ongoing community efforts to fight this injustice.
“Instead of mitigation, we just want this to stop and we want our Governor, our leader of Guam, to help us get our lands back. That’s the bottom line… No, the military is not a great steward to our lands… Our family has been waiting patiently for the return of our property. Correct the injustices that have and will continue to take place. Let us take care of Ritidian. Let us be the people who will protect our lands from destruction, show our natural resources, and welcome family and friends – friends who respect and love Ritidian and will fight to the bitter end,” McCollum stated.
Another Ritidian descendant Lou Flores Bejado also added:
“Litekyan is not just a piece of property – it is our life, our beautiful history, and a way for us to connect with our ancestors. Our ancestors were also buried there before the war… such sacred grounds. Our nephew Rain Flores San Nicolas drowned at Litekyan saving his cousin’s life a few years back. So to think of bullets going into that part of the ocean, makes our stomachs turn and our hearts ache in pain. Those are sacred waters too… There are so many arguments as to why Litekyan should be put off as a firing range. The marines are not expected until 8 years from now. Why are they starting this early? We need to delay the buildup and come back to the drawing board and find what is mutually beneficial for all. If the military wants to be good partners in the community, they need to listen to us to avoid any undue stress or unrest as a people… Many have told me that if this was their land, they to would fight. I know that if this was your family’s land, or if it was land belonging to Governor Calvo’s family, we would not be here today, and rightly so, we would be behind them as well.”
Vice Speaker Terlaje hopes that Governor Calvo will use his authority and influence to put the clearing of the limestone forest adjacent to Ritidian on hold. She recalled many of the protests that have taken place within the last decade to defend against federal control of Ritidian, and how thousands of residents spoke out during the EIS and SEIS commenting periods to criticize the construction of live-fire ranges adjacent to ancient villages.
“There is no dispute after the recent reports from the SHPO and the 2017 Biological Opinion, of the devastating impacts of the live-fire training range if it is placed at Northwest Field above Ritidian. It is not too late. It is going to take all of us to work together,” Terlaje stated.
For more information, please call the
Office of Vice Speaker Therese M. Terlaje at (671) 472-3586