‘Too much bureaucracy’ involved in historic site access

Attorney Therese Terlaje talks to Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas representatives about the importance of having permanent access to cultural and historic sites on Guam, as We Are Guåhan member Cara Flores-Mays listens. David Castro / For Variety

THE grassroots organization We Are Guåhan says there is too much bureaucracy involved in gaining public access to Guam’s historic sites restricted by the military, but the Department of Defense claims it is a “steward” for the preservation of these cultural sites.

Senator Tina Muña-Barnes, committee chair on Municipal Affairs, conducted a roundtable discussion yesterday on public access to cultural sites on federal property.

Among the attendees were We Are Guåhan’s Leevin Camacho and Cara Flores-Mays, Joint Region Marianas Defense Coordinating Officer Roy Tsutsui, and State Historic Preservation Officer Lynda Aguon.

Camacho testified that there is too much paperwork involved in trying to gain access to the historic sites, and more time is put into organizing the visits than the actual visit itself.

For example, he said locals are asked to make two trips to Naval Base, one of which is to submit their social security numbers. In some cases, Camacho said it can take as much as five months of planning and coordinating before a visit to a historic site is made.

Camacho recommended that DOD designate a day when all sites are accessible to those who are pre-screened.

No reason

For her part, Sen. Aline Yamashita concurred that “there’s no reason it should take five months to do something,” and suggested that a designated coordinator be appointed to avoid future challenges in allowing public access.

Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Marianas officials said they have identified an access plan coordinator, Stephanie Arrowman, whom they are currently training to be the single point of contact for the community.

Tsutsui stated the military’s mission is for the preservation of the cultural sites. He said DOD is looking for ways to address the general public’s safety when accessing the sites, in addition to ways cultural sites may be protected from “destruction” or “desecration.”

However, Mays expressed her frustration with the process by which local residents must go through in order to access the island’s cultural sites.

“A step forward is definitely better than a step backward. But it feels wrong for me to have to ask for permission to have access to an area where my grandmother once went,” said Mays. “So I don’t know how you take into account the insult to myself and others that we should have to ask to access a place that is so important to us.”

Barnes inquired with NAVFAC Marianas officials if there is any site within the 25 identified cultural sites for public access that is completely off the table as far as public access is concerned.

Tsutsui replied that based on present military operations, there are no sites he’s aware of that are permanently off the table, making all the identified sites, at some point, accessible.

Meanwhile, the NAVFAC Marianas Public Affairs Office announced that the public comment period for the DOD Public Access Plan has been extended to Oct. 31.

PUBLIC ACCESS INFO

Interested members of the public may download comment forms at the following URLs:

NAVFAC Pacific Cultural Resources Information:

http://bit.ly/NAVFAC-GuamPA

Guam SHPO:

http://www.historicguam.org.

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