Guam Congresswoman Delays Bill Restricting Access To Reserve

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Bordallo decides community must have a chance to discuss the issue

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 9, 2014) – Del. Madeleine Bordallo yesterday said she decided to slow the passage of a bill she introduced that would allow the Navy to close part of the National Wildlife Refuge at Ritidian to provide a safety zone for a new military firing range.The firing range at Northwest Field would allow Marines to train on Guam and is part of the revised plan for the military buildup.

Bordallo yesterday could have attached the bill as an amendment to the defense budget for next fiscal year, but decided against it.

The defense spending bill passed the House Armed Services Committee yesterday afternoon, Guam time.

"After speaking with Gov. Calvo, members of the Legislature, and the Ritidian original landowners, I agree that our community should have the opportunity to discuss this issue and other concerns regarding the buildup during the public meetings on the (draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement)," Bordallo said.

At the foot of a limestone cliff in the National Wildlife Refuge at Ritidian, a former fishing camp that early Guam settlers used some 3,000 years ago is a focal point for tours.

At the site, students on field trips and tourists keen on culture are left in awe, said Emily Sablan, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service park ranger and visitors' guide.

As visitors stand near the mouth of a cave, under a canopy of trees, bowl-like shapes carved out of the limestone formation offer a peek at ancient food-preparation techniques using what's locally known as "lusong," Sablan said. Lusong is the Chamorro word for the bowl part of a mortar and pestle.

About 45,000 tourists and 12,000 schoolchildren visit the refuge each year, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimated, but the proposal to create a safety zone for a firing range could limit access to the site 39 weeks out of the year.

Gov. Eddie Calvo, in his weekly column in the Pacific Daily News today, said he agrees with the proposal to put the Marine firing range at Northwest Field.

"It is the most logical of all the options," Calvo said.

Calvo said he's worried that opposition voiced by certain members of the Legislature during the earlier, bigger plan to build a Marine base and firing range on Guam could cause the island to lose out on economic opportunities if the revised buildup plan is stalled or canceled.

"The military buildup will not happen without a firing range on Guam," Calvo said.

Speaker Judith Won Pat has stated she hesitated supporting Bordallo's Ritidian bill because it was introduced without public consultation.

"This bill was introduced before the draft SEIS was released and before our community had a chance to read through these revised plans for the military buildup and express concerns," Won Pat said.

Three public comment meetings are scheduled on Guam in the coming weeks on the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the military buildup.

Residents who spoke during a recent legislative hearing on the buildup were concerned about the impact of the proposed firing range to the wildlife at Ritidian and the potential restriction of public access to the refuge, which offers sandy beaches, historical sites and hiking trails.

The governor stated that "military protection of habitat and endangered species is more controlled than (even with) Fish and Wildlife" management.

Northwest Field is a former World War II-era airfield. A portion of the refuge at Ritidian will be needed as a safety buffer zone to avoid accidental injury in the event a round escapes the firing range, the military's draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement has stated.

The study indicates it's unlikely a round will accidentally get past the firing range.

The probability of missing a berm, which will be located behind firing targets, and escaping the safety buffer zone is one in 562,000,000,000, according to the buildup website http://www.guambuildupeis.us.

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