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National Preservation Trust fights Pagat training site

By Brett Kelman HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 19, 2010) – Federal and local entities that oppose plans for a Marine firing range in Guam's PÃ¥gat area have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense in a Hawaii federal court.

[PIR editor’s note: Guam’s PÃ¥gat area is one of the four latte sites located on the northeastern coast of Guam. The site contains remnants of a large latte village believed to be part of a larger exchange network, and is cultural important to the indigenous people of the Northern Mariana Islands.]

The Guam Preservation Trust has partnered with the National Preservation Trust and protest group We Are Guåhan in filing the 86-page lawsuit.

The lawsuit calls for a federal judge to stop any plans to build the proposed firing range along Route 15 near the ancient PÃ¥gat Village site. Yesterday, Nick Yost, the lead attorney said, a scheduling conference has been set for February 14.

"The most desirable result would be that the Defense Department would see the error of their ways and they decide to put the firing range somewhere else, Yost said. There is a certain amount of paperwork they have to go through to do that but the very minimum, what we want is them to reopen the process and honestly examine alternatives."

The proposed firing range has become one of the most controversial aspects of the coming military buildup, which would bring 41,000 people including 5,163 Marines to Guam by 2016.

The lawsuit is not opposed to the buildup as a whole, only the military's preferred location for the firing range, which the Defense Department has said the Marines need for daily training.

Defense officials have assured that the PÃ¥gat area will still be accessible to the public on a near-daily basis, and that gunfire won't damage the ancient sites, but firing range protesters are still opposed to any range in the area.

The lawsuit's filing coincides with a visit by Washington, D.C.-based Joe Ludovici, the new executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office, who has coordinated much of the buildup, including the Environmental Impact Statements Ludovici, met with the Legislature yesterday and spoke briefly about the PÃ¥gat lawsuit afterward.

He has no alternatives to PÃ¥gat, he said, but he's "all ears" for a compromise.

"I think it wouldn't be appropriate for me to ask Guam not to meet their objectives. I don't think they're asking me not to meet my objectives. They're just saying 'Well, we're not sure they're aligned yet. Because your objectives include my land, and we want you to meet your objectives on your land,' Ludovici said. And I'm saying I'm not sure I can do that."

On Wednesday, Ludovici said land acquisition for the proposed firing range was one of the complicated challenges the Program Office must tackle in the coming year. The Defense Department must acquire GovGuam and privately owned land for the range, but so far, most discussions about land have revolved around what the military wants, he said.

More "candid discussions" are needed, Ludovici said on Wednesday.

We don't have alternatives that we could consider, but I want to start ... from where we are, and let them maybe start from where they are, and then maybe see what happens," Ludovici said yesterday.

In a press release, Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said she, too, had urged the Defense Department to look at other sites and questioned if alternatives had been fully explored.

"I remain unconvinced that a deal could be reached to lease government of Guam land near the PÃ¥gat cultural and historical site without major changes to the current plans," Bordallo said in the release.

Island lawmakers have also said they won't agree to any lease of GovGuam land for a firing range in the PÃ¥gat area.

During a Guam Preservation Trust press conference yesterday, Chief Program Officer Joe Quinata said, the island is united behind the firing range lawsuit so it could not be ignored.

"Practically every segment of this community has shown their support to save PÃ¥gat Village, Quinata said. We were hoping not to come to this juncture, but we have to. They have not listened to us. They have not taken any action to what we would like to see. And so now we come to (this juncture) and say that enough is enough."

Leevin Camacho, a representative of We Are Guåhan said plans for a firing range near Pågat are the "most glaring example that the Defense Department made its decision a long time ago about how the buildup was going to proceed."

According to the lawsuit, the Defense Department's selection of PÃ¥gat violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act. Most of the alleged violations mentioned in the lawsuit stem from the National Environmental Policy Act, which covers the Environmental Impact Statement process that ended in July. According to the lawsuit, the Department of Defense:

After these four civilian sites were suggested, the military discussed them briefly in the Record of Decision. Maps in that document show that any ranges at these locations would overlap with major roads, including Marine Corps Drive and Route 4, and residential areas.

"The lawsuit was filed in the District Court of Hawaii because that is where the Environmental Impact Statements were drafted," Yost said.

Yost's law firm, SNR Denton, is working for free, Quinata said.

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