Public Hearings Into Impact Of Guam Buildup Begin

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Concerns about public access around training areas expected

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 28, 2014) – As the first of a series of local- and military-initiated public meetings on the revised military buildup plan happens tonight, the issue of public access to Ritidian beach, caves and hiking trails could come up.

The Guam Legislature's committee on military buildup-related issues will hold a round-table discussion at 6 p.m. today in the Guam Legislature.

The new preferred site for the Marine Corps' Live Fire Training Range Complex, at Northwest Field, is within Andersen Air Force Base property. If that location is finalized, public access to nearby Ritidian wildlife would be limited as a safety precaution, states the recently released draft supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

The study details a smaller, slower plan to build a Marine Corps base on existing military and federal property -- off Route 3 near Andersen -- over the next 12 years. The revised plan also shifts the preferred firing range location from the Route 15 area, near the ancient PÃ¥gat cultural site, to Northwest Field.

The selection of the Route 15 area could have meant the acquisition of more than 1,000 acres of non-federal land, and its proximity to an ancient Chamorro village became a major point of opposition by local activists during earlier military buildup public meetings.

Previous buildup plans also considered Northwest Field, and public concerns over access to Ritidian also were expressed during earlier meetings, but at the time, Northwest Field wasn't the preferred site for the proposed firing range, the study states.

Public access to Ritidian beach is already currently limited on the northern portion of the beach due to sea turtle nesting, according to the draft supplemental EIS.

With a firing range in the area, a "surface danger zone" would extend over approximately 264 acres of the Guam National Wildlife Refuge, including approximately 142 acres of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Ritidian Unit. The surface danger zone would also extend over approximately 3,059 acres of the Philippine Sea, according to the draft supplemental EIS.

A significant part of the surface danger zone area is already closed to the public because it's within the military-secured property, according to the Joint Guam Program Office, which oversees the buildup readiness.

But the current publicly accessible area could shrink when the visitors center will be moved -- to the left of its existing location -- because the existing visitors center would fall within the surface danger zone.

Public access to Ritidian would be restricted during the operation of the live fire training range, which is estimated to occur 39 weeks in a year, according to the draft supplemental EIS.

When the training range is not in use, public access to the Ritidian area outside the surface danger zone will be up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to the draft supplemental EIS.

A call and an email to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Ritidian Unit for comment did not generate a response as of press time.

The preferred live fire training range site would also "have direct impacts on recreational resources in the area, including access to hiking trails currently open to the public and to accessible caves at the base of cliffs that are within the surface danger zone," according to the study.

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