U.S. Navy's Underwater Detonation Plans Anger Guam Residents

Explosive tests to be conducted without any community input

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, April 25, 2017) – The U.S. Navy’s plan to conduct underwater detonation training in Outer Apra Harbor without soliciting community input has angered Guam residents, who took to social media to voice their concerns.

The underwater detonation was originally scheduled for April 27 and 28, but the Joint Region Marianas or JRM announced that the training has been rescheduled for May 18, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

JRM said the Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit will detonate four separate 1.25-pound explosives beneath the water’s surface away from coral and on a sandy bottom.

In an earlier announcement in the Federal Register on Friday, April 21, the Coast Guard acknowledged the “inherent danger” and “potential hazards” associated with underwater detonation. However, it said it would be unable to accommodate public comments due to time constraints.

The Coast Guard said it is authorized to issue a rule without prior notice and opportunity to comment when the agency for good cause finds that those procedures are “impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.”

The announcement prompted a reaction from Sen. Fernando Esteves, who demanded that the underwater detonation training be put off to allow the community to speak up.

“Unilateral decision making and restricting community input is not in the best interests of a mutually beneficial relationship expected in a partnership,” Esteves said in a letter to Rear Adm. Shoshana Chatfield, commander of Joint Region Marianas.

“The people of Guam are not ignorant of the fact…that the Department of Defense has near free rein on Guam’s waters. However, consistent reminders of Guam’s non-status as a non-self-governing territory such as these detonations of explosives are inconsiderate and dismissive to the local community,” the senator added.

Social media have been abuzz with angry comments and questions since the Coast Guard made the announcement.

“What is the purpose of the explosive charges? Has an environmental study been conducted? Has the territorial government granted approval? By what authority do they restrict freedom of movement through our waters? Are these actions regulated by the coral reef protection Act? Since the waters within 3 miles of the high water line are under the jurisdiction of the territorial government, who consented to this and why?” Frank Schacher, general manager at United Fisheries Corp., wrote on Facebook.

Another Facebook user, John Borja, blamed the local leaders for their silence. “All this anti-colonialism rhetoric yet here you have an opportunity to say something and what do you do? You bow to our imperial masters with your silence,” he wrote.

“But why?” Brenda Atalig asked. “Why does this exercise need to happen and so soon that a public hearing is not necessary?”

Roque Rosario of Mangilao urged the people to “to get a life vest, get on a boat and build a human raft over the area of concern to protest.”

In its press release, JRM said the Navy is permitted to routinely conduct underwater detonation training by the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“The Navy carefully follows mitigation procedures to ensure minimal impact to the environment. For the safety of personnel and marine life, the area will be visually cleared by divers and by a lookout on the surface before, during and after the exercise,” JRM said. “All activity will cease temporarily if a person or marine mammal is seen in the area.”

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