US Military Plans No Tanks, Artillery At Guam Testing Ranges

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Live-fire ranges to be limited to small arms

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, May 22, 2014) – No tanks or heavy artillery will be fired at the proposed live-fire training range complex on Andersen Air Force Base, a Navy spokesman said yesterday in a bid to allay the community's concerns about the safety of the Marines' training activities on Guam.

"These ranges are only designed for small arms – regular pistols, regular rifle and multipurpose machine guns up to .50 caliber," said Maj. Darren Alvarez, public information officer for the Joint Guam Program Office.

Alvarez spoke before the Guam Contractors Association during the group's membership meeting at Westin Resort Guam, where he explained the content of the draft environmental impact statement for the Marines' relocation plan and answered questions about the impact of the proposed firing range complex.

"I don't know why some people keep asking about uranium. There will be uranium if they use tanks. But these are not planned to be actually used here," Alvarez said. "I'm not sure whether the tanks will be here, but certainly they will not be shot here."

He said the weapons that will be used at the training site will only fire lead bullets encased in copper. "No explosive bullets, no incendiary, nothing," Alvarez added. "They will be shooting 450 feet above where the wildlife refuge is."

Among the five proposed alternatives, the Navy has identified the Northwest Field area of Andersen as the preferred site.

To enhance safety and protection, Alvarez said cameras directed at the water and the surrounding areas will be installed at the firing range site to monitor any human activity. There are also plans to put buoys in the ocean to mark the danger zone.

"There will be a 24-hour patrol to make sure nobody is out in the water when the range is firing," Alvarez said. "When someone is driving through, they will stop firing."

Alvarez said Northwest Field has been identified as the preferred site because it meets most of the required criteria, including the factor that it is within the confines of the current federal footprint and most of the surrounding areas that have been off-limits to the public.

He said the impact of public access will affect only a small portion of the area, which will be shut off during the training.

The plan, however, is not set in stone, Alvarez said. "There are still four others to consider and the preferred site may change prior to the (release of the) final SEIS," he said.

The three public meetings about the draft supplemental environmental impact statement conducted by JGPO concluded Tuesday.

Alvarez said about 450 people showed up during the first two public hearings on Saturday and Monday, with 75 people giving verbal testimony and 30 others submitting written testimony. The public comment period ends June 17.

"The public meetings are intended to show what the plan is and to clarify misconceptions," Alvarez said. "There are things that some people are willingly spinning for some reason. Our job is to clarify what we know as facts."

While receptive to most public comments, Alvarez confessed he was turned off by some people's "disdainful" attitude toward the 7,000 jobs that the military buildup will create.

"To be honest, one thing that I didn't like during the public meetings is when people are very disdainful of the 7,000 construction jobs. I took offense to that," he said.

He noted that the construction workers currently working on ongoing military projects are "raking in money for the community."

Alvarez said the 7,000 new jobs will bring additional tax revenues for Guam.

Alvarez assured the community that all comments will be recorded and taken into consideration. Comments will be categorized as "actionable comments" and "non-actionable comments."

"Actionable comments" are those that deal with the actual content of the draft SEIS, while "non-actionable comments" are those that deal with "legacy issues" that Alvarez said are not exactly related to the military buildup.

He said one particular comment that was distinctly "actionable" raised during one of the public meetings has to do with the impact of the Marines' use of a road by the Naval Magazine area in Santa Rita. "More people will use that road so that road needs to be added to the repair list," Alvarez said.

But political issues, such as self-determination, are outside of the purview of the SEIS process, he said.

"The SEIS process is not making decisions or policy for the Navy in general," Alvarez said. "The Navy is running the actual construction and environmental study but we don't make decisions on legacy issues. Those are very good issues. There is no reason why you can't bring them up, but there's nothing we can do about those issues."

He said the Navy will also make a tally of "pro-military buildup" and "anti-military buildup comments" and put them on record.

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