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Guamanians Fight Plan for U.S. Firing Ranges

HONOLULU (CN) - The Pentagon is preparing to destroy cultural and environmental treasures of Guam by building five firing ranges on more than 1,000 acres, citizens and cultural groups claim. The shooting grounds for machineguns and other weapons will trash Guam's only bay as the Pentagon moves 80,000 soldiers and contractors there from Okinawa, due to pressure from Japan, according to the federal complaint.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Guam Preservation Trust and other groups and citizens say Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his minions will violate the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Guam Coastal Management Program as they occupy land in and around Pagat Village.

Rapes and other crimes committed by U.S. sailors in Okinawa forced the Pentagon to do something to assuage the public outcry. As part of its effort to reduce the U.S. military profile there, the Defense Department agreed to move about 80,000 service members, dependents and contractors to Guam from Okinawa by 2017.

The Guamanian plaintiffs say the Pentagon never conducted a full and fair environmental assessment of what the massive troop transfers would do to Guam's land and waters. Nor did the Pentagon consider alternative sites such as the neighboring island of Tinian, according to the complaint.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation says the village of Pagat is "one of the 11 most endangered historic places in America." It is a popular fishing area, surrounded by forests and caves, and is sacred to the indigenous Chamorro people who make up half of Guam's population of 175,000.

The Guamanians say the Pentagon's environmental analysis of terrestrial biological resources at Pagat is "fundamentally flawed," because, among other things, it "ignores the National Marine Fisheries Service's comments indicating that the Pagat area may be habitat for sensitive turtle species."

According to the military's own newspaper, Stars & Stripes, "both the EPA and local marine experts complained that the military's plan did little to explore other options in the island's only harbor to avoid dredging as much as 25 acres of coral." Stars & Stripes reported Teri Weaver reported, "In its final environmental statement, the Navy stuck to its plans to put the firing range near the Pagat village site, a move that some local leaders have said will force the military to take the land by legal force. It's a tactic the military has pledged to avoid."

The 24,000-page draft EIS was made available for public comment in November 2009. The plaintiff Guam Preservation Trust, established in 1990 to "preserve and protect Guam's historic sites, culture, and perspectives for the benefit of its people and its future," says that its mission "is significantly impeded by the decision to build a live-fire range complex at Pagat."

"Plaintiffs do not contest in this lawsuit the larger relocation of Marines and other forces to Guam, nor do they take issue in this lawsuit with the foreign and defense policy considerations that have caused the Government to seek a base for the Marines other than Okinawa, where controversy has attended their continued presence," the complaint states. "What plaintiffs do contest is Defendants' decision to choose Pagat Village and its surrounds as the site of the firing range complex (described antiseptically by the Department of the Navy as the 'Route 15' area, named after the road which transects the forests surrounding Pagat, and which would have to be moved."

The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They are represented by Carl Christensen of Honolulu and Nicholas Yost of San Francisco.

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