THE Programmatic Agreement open house held last Thursday at Okkodo High School was supposed to engage the public to learn more about projects related to the military buildup based on the Record of Decision but local and federal officials said the efforts to disseminate information are still not enough.
Caroline Hall, a representative of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, who flew to Guam for just three nights, said although she acknowledged the Department of Defense has made efforts, they have come “way too late” in the process.
The National Historic Preservation Trust Advisory Council oversees the Section 106 process which requires federal agencies to take into account the impact of military activities on historic properties like Pagat which is being eyed to be turned into a firing range.
“We’re heartened to see them doing it now. We are hopeful that we can reach an agreement in this process, but it’s very important to us to see that these kinds of meetings are not just lip service,” said Hall.
Joint Guam Program Office Assistant Director for Environment Randy Sablan said, however, the military has been doing its job in ensuring the involvement of the community from the “beginning.”
He referred to a billboard, among the many strategically placed at the open house, that outlined the various dates starting from March 2007 with the consulting parties involved in the selection process in demonstrating the military’s willingness to consider the public’s concerns.
The PA is an example of the Navy listening to the people of Guam, Sablan said.
“So they comment, we incorporate. We present it again in meetings and talk about it and that’s the consultation process. They have other changes and things they would like to incorporate. We have a little bit of give-and-take and discussions about practicality, reasonableness and what will work to preserve and protect resources—incorporate again. And so it’s been an interactive process for over three years now,” Sablan added.
But We Are Guahan Spokesperson Leevin Camacho isn’t convinced.
“They’re calling this the 11th hearing on the National Historic Preservation on the PA specifically, but I went to every one of those meetings in January and not a single one did they mention the programmatic agreement—not one,” he said.
He added that more than half of the people listed as consulting parties on the billboards were not invited to be part of the consulting party until about two months ago.
Activist organizations like We Are Guahan and Fuetsan Famalao’an, Camacho said, have submitted requests to be part of the consulting party but didn’t hear back from DoD until Sept. 15.
If DoD’s purpose for hosting an open house on the PA is to engage the public, Camacho said he doesn’t believe DoD has engaged the community enough.
He said the timing was off as the open house was held two days after Guam’s general elections, making it difficult to get the word out to the public because the media was inundated with political stories.
For his part, Vice Speaker Benjamin F. Cruz, who was invited to be a consulting party, said he was not impressed with the open house, either.
Although initially satisfied to learn of the open house, he was disappointed in the information provided on the billboards—specifically one that states the Section 106 process is not mandated by law.
That means the military can, if it wanted to, follow through with dredging 70 acres of precious coral in Apra Harbor for a berthing site, or even build a firing range along Route 15 overlooking the historic Pagat site.
“I just want them to understand that we are not dumb. We are able to take them on and point out the inconsistencies in their arguments,” said Cruz. “We are just educated—if not more educated—than most of them.”