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Military seeks to dispel ‘misconceptions’

HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Military officials on Guam are continuing their efforts to dispel what they called “misconceptions” about the plan to build facilities for almost 5,000 Marines who are being moved to the island from Okinawa.

“The purpose of...talking to you all is to give you an update of our status,” Col. Brent Bien, head of the Marine Corps on island, said at a Mayors’ Council of Guam special monthly meeting Wednesday.

Col. Brent Bien of the Marine Corps leadership on Guam speaks to mayors about the upcoming military buildup and construction work on Oct. 18.  Photo by John O’Connor/The Guam Daily Post

‘Few misconceptions’

“There’s a few misconceptions and three primary ones. One you may be hearing is that the military is bad for the environment. The other is we’re closing down Ritidian, and that our plans look to potentially destroy the cultural sites in that area.”

Activist groups, such as Prutehi Litekyan, are opposed to the construction of a live-fire training range at the Andersen Air Force Base Northwest Field property above Ritidian because of potential negative effects on the environment as well as more restricted access and possible destruction of cultural sites.

Bien contends the activists’ arguments are the main “misconceptions” about the buildup.

Projects associated with buildup activities unlock federal funding that allow the military to work toward environmental preservation, Bien added. These efforts include millions of dollars spent on preserving habitats for endangered species and controlling brown tree snakes and other invasive species.

Regarding concerns about restricted access to Ritidian, Bien noted that access to parts of the wildlife refuge is already restricted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and that further restrictions apply only when the live-fire training range is in use. The range may not be operated more than 39 weeks a year.

On the concerns about potential harm to cultural sites, Bien said a berm, which is a raised strip at the end of the range, is intended to catch ammunition and hold cultural sites harmless. While a little more than a dozen sites may need to be moved, most sites will not have to be disturbed for construction, Bien added.

However, Bien acknowledged that there will be disruption to local fishing activities off the Ritidian coastline. This occurs during the 39 weeks per year that training will occur.

“It’s a safety issue,” Bien said.

But not everyone is convinced that military construction at Andersen will result in the kind of positive outlook the military is portraying.

Concerns raised

Maria Hernandez, a member of Prutehi Litekyan and a descendant of original landowners in the area, said she wasn’t surprised at the information presented by Bien. Hernandez attended the mayors’ meeting as well.

“In the military’s own studies ... it states that the location at Northwest Field is the most harmful to the culture and environment on this island, and yet they’re still moving forward with this plan,” Hernandez said.

A letter from Prutehi Litekyan submitted to mayors urged them to consider other factors as they listened to the military presentation. Among these is the letter from State Historical Preservation Officer Lynda Aguon stating that a re-evaluation of archaeological studies must take place before a live-fire training range is constructed.

Gov. Eddie Calvo is also opposed to the buildup due to ongoing difficulty petitioning skilled foreign workers on H-2B visas. And certain members of the Guam Legislature have publicly opposed the firing range amid concerns about impacts to the environment and cultural sites.

“The military comes forward and they are speaking about how the (range) is so definitive, and that it’s going to happen. But (Prutehi Litekyan) is going to continue to fight this firing range...and it’s not going to happen on our watch,” Hernandez added.