GUAM BUYS TIME ON FEDERAL HIGHWAY CONTROVERSY

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By Mark-Alexander Pieper

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 6) – Residents of Tiyan on Guam won't need to worry about finding a new place to stay for now as Guam Governor Felix Camacho's meetings with federal officials last week have bought the local government more time to come up with a solution to the land controversy.

Camacho said a highway still must be built through Tiyan, and that the government is looking for ways to build a highway while still leaving room for landowners' homes.

Camacho has spent the last week in the nation's capital meeting with President Bush, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, and the Interagency Group on Insular Affairs to find some middle ground to satisfy both the federal interest of building a highway in Tiyan and the interests of ancestral landowners who want to keep their recently returned land.

Camacho said the threat of immediate reversion of the land has been averted. Camacho said there are no assurances that the feds won't take back funds or land at a later date if negotiations break down.

After World War II, the federal government took control of the Tiyan lands for defense purposes. The area now known as Tiyan served as a Naval air station and a military housing area. When it was returned to the local government in 2000, the Legislature, two years later, voted to return the land in parcels to heirs of the Chamorro landowners who were documented as having owned the land at the time it was taken.

In 2004 another local law took effect to return the cliffside land to heirs of the original landowners.

On February 3, Camacho received a letter from Federal Highway Administration Honolulu Division Administrator Abraham Wong, which threatened a loss of federal funding and the revocation of the Tiyan properties to the federal government. Wong said the land was earmarked for highway use and should not have been returned. He then gave the governor 30 days to respond to the letter with a plan to expeditiously correct this situation.

Camacho yesterday said that Wong's tone from his harshly worded letter was different during their 90-minute meeting in Honolulu on Saturday.

"My goal was to stop the threat of immediate reversion. I believe we've done that," the governor said during a press conference yesterday. "We're not out of the woods yet, but dialogue has begun."

Wong could not be reached for comment yesterday at his Honolulu, Hawaii, office.

Tiyan landowner Francisco Santos said although he doesn't live on his late father's Tiyan land, he is glad that the governor is trying to find a solution to the controversy, but he also admits he isn't optimistic.

"I don't think we're going to get anything out of it unless something changes because that red spot on the map where the road would be runs right through our property," said the Sinajana resident. "I guess the governor is doing what he can but I think we have to wait and see what happens with it. If that road does go somewhere else, then maybe we can benefit from it."

In a written response he provided to Wong at the meeting, Camacho argues that the 2000 agreement that returned the land from the federal government to the local government does not prevent GovGuam from reverting the land to original landowners.

He said that the agreement states that the transfer of easements – power, water, telephone and fuel lines – are prohibited, but that the agreement plainly suggests that other areas may be transferred.

Camacho also argues that the agreement doesn't give ground to Wong's threat of reversion of the land to the federal government. The agreement states that if the land is not needed for highway purposes, then it should revert back to the federal government. Camacho contends that, "GovGuam has never taken the position that transportation needs for the areas around Tiyan no longer exists."

The governor then explained parts of the US$20.4 million Guam 2020 Highway Master Plan that would see the construction of a Tiyan highway begin in 2016 and finish two years later.

At yesterday's press conference, the governor admitted that a highway must be built through Tiyan for the local government to satisfy its contractual agreement with the federal government.

But what Camacho said isn't set in stone is the size and location of a highway in Tiyan. When the plan to run a highway through Tiyan was first developed, the governor said Tiyan was still a military base and they did not want to run a road through the base.

He said officials looked for ways to build a highway around the base, which is why the cliffside area was chosen. Tiyan is no longer a military base.

The administration has the Department of Public Works looking into other ways to run a highway through Tiyan without inhibiting airport development and still leave room for landowners.

Camacho also said they are having the airport work with the Federal Aviation Administration to find a way to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration mandate that a highway needs to be built in the area within the next five years.

"We believe we can find an alternative solution that has minimal impact on original landowners," he said. "I believe we're going to find a way to make this work... and if the intent is to build a highway, that's going to get done."

March 7, 2006

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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