Mainland judge finds DoD breached environmental act
by Sabrina Salas Matanane, KUAM News
Friday, January 25, 2008
A part of the report prepared by the General Accountability Office included a key paragraph regarding the relocation of United States Marines to Guam and how it is dependent upon what's called the Futenma Replacement Facility. Essentially this facility would relocate a portion of the U.S. air base in Futenma to another location - in this case off the northeastern coast of Okinawa in Henoko Bay. The problem is that the waters are prime habitat for Japan's natural monument: the dugong.
Like the American bald eagle to the United States, dugongs are a national treasure to the people of Japan. Critically endangered and protected under the National Historic Preservation Act, it was the Department of Defense's plans to relocate parts of the air base in Futenma to the northeastern coast of Okinawa that sparked legal action to protect the dugongs in 2003. Over the last several years, several conservation and environmental groups both in Japan and the U.S., like EarthJustice have been fighting the Pentagon for failing to take any consideration the impact the FRF would have on the nearly extinct mammals.
The plans for the FRF would have it constructed in prime habitat for the dugongs by building a 1.5-mile long runway right over seagrass beds where the mammals live. The case can be considered a prime example of what can be done when a community pulls together to effectuate change.
These conservation and environmentalist groups, led by attorneys from EarthJustice, won a major victory in a federal court in California today. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel found, "The current record contains no evidence that a single official from the Department of Defense with responsibility for the Futenma Replacement Facility has conferred or assessed the available information on the dugong or the effects of the FRF."
The judge found the DoD violated the National Historic Preservation Act, under which the dugongs are protected. The NHPA requires agencies of the U.S. Government to consider the impacts on cultural and historic resources in other nations when undertaking activities outside the United States. This is the first time the Act has been applied overseas.
The DoD was ordered to submit within three months documents describing its plans to assess the project's effects on the dugong and develop ways to lessen its impact. The Futenma Replacement Facility as cited by the GAO is a critical component that must be completed or it could delay the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. The estimated cost of the facility is pegged at being about $4-$5 billion.
Commenting on the today's decision, EarthJustice attorney Sarah Burt stated, "With this ruling, Judge Patel has made clear that the Department of Defense has an obligation to take a serious look at the impacts of its actions overseas to avoid causing irrevocable harm to the cultural heritage of another nation." It's something islanders should hold to heart as DoD ramps up efforts to increase military presence here at home.
According to Civilian Military Task Force member Tony Lamorena, it's the reason why a subcommittee has been formed specifically to protect Guam's natural resources. "We feel that for the magnitude for the construction that's going to be happening there are a lot of natural resources that we need to protect be albeit the plants, fauna and flora and so forth and wildlife. We also have to be aware of our historic sites...there are numerous historic sites up north that could be adversely affected with the construction on Guam. It is important to us," said Lamorena.