Visiting Navy Installations Expert Faces A Guam Struggling To Find One Voice
Is 90 Days Enough To Vet The Buildup Impact Statement?
Written by Jeff Marchesseault, Guam News Factor Staff Writer
Thursday, 29 October 2009 16:00
GUAM - News from Washington, D.C. on Thursday morning that Guam would receive an additional 45 days to review the federal government's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the military buildup brought forth gratitude from local officials.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo in her Washington office on Wednesday that he would double the review time to 90 days.
What Senators Want: Time Enough To Act And Understand
But the extension raises important concerns about how local officials, particularly local senators, can maximize this time and whether they can garner the necessary expertise to read the documents and add their input before the 90-day deadline, once the DEIS is released and the clock starts ticking.
Time and again members of the Legislature have raised the issue of not having the funding or the know-how to sift through the estimated 8,000 pages of DEIS documents and generate analysis and recommendations. The Governor's Office says that its consulting firm the Matrix group will provide those services to the executive branch. But it isn't yet clear whether the legislative branch will ultimately have enough hours, days and months to review findings, provide checks and balances, and open another forum for public comment.
In Search Of Common Ground
Despite lingering questions about resources for the review period, the sentiment among leading island officials today is that we're at least making headway with the Department of Defense on the need to vet the study locally for effective scrutiny and input.
"I did receive a call this morning from the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. That's Roger Natsuhara," said Governor Camacho during a media briefing late this morning. "He did inform me that the request was granted for an extension."
"We're very greatful for that...but it also means that there's a lot of work ahead for the Territory to review such a technical document, thousands of pages long.
"We currently have a group that's working with us in trying to summarize the key points that can then direct us...where we need to focus. And that's the Matrix group that's here right now, also working with us on our compatability study in our workshops in our villages."
The Governor said Natsuhara told him he's no stranger to the island. "He had served here for two years on Guam. He brings a familiarity with the Territory." According to a release from Guam Senators Judi Guthertz, Chair of the Guam Buildup Committee, and Legislative Rules Chair Rory Respicio, Natsuhara is Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment.
Camacho also said Natsuhara replaces a well-known buildup figure on Guam, retiring Assistant Secretary of the Navy B.J. Penn. The Governor said he planned to discuss a wide range of issues with Natsuhara this afternoon to help bring both of them up to speed.
Heading Camacho's list of touchpoints would be the Draft EIS and Guam's civilian-side buildup needs.
"Identifying the the huge gap, the huge delta, between what's going to be required of Guam and the impact the buildup brings and our capacity to underwrite the cost," said Camacho when asked what his discussion priorities would be with the new Assistant Secretary.
"There's only so much we can do, Camacho said. "There's got to be a collaborative effort... with the federal government in trying to find ways to underwrite the cost. And Guam has to make a compelling case when it comes to monies because, as the budget process goes, anything that we receive in the way of paying for the buildup is going to take from some other community."
Camacho added that other communities have senators, representatives and lobbyists fighting for all of their special interests. "Guam doesn't have much of a voice. We have a nonvoting (delegate) in the House and that's it."
Senator Guthertz, an outspoken advocate for federal assistance for the local community, told Guam News Factor that it appears the federal government is coming to understand and appreciate the fact that Guam wants a one-island approach that benefits civilian residents and the military alike.
"This extension shows some good faith on the part of JGPO [Joint Guam Program Office] and the Department of Defense," said Guthertz.
"My hope is that this reasonableness and good faith will be reflected in the Draft EIS document and in the manner in which our input on the document will be respected by the Secretary of the Navy who has ultimate authority in approving the final version, which will hopefully incorporate our recommendations."
Guthertz and Respicio issued a news release on Thursday evening, putting forth their outlying concerns now that the Department of the Navy has expanded the DEIS review period.
Here is that release:
FEDS RESPOND FAVORABLY TO "TEAM GUAM" APPROACH IN EIS EXTENSION
Still, Sens. Guthertz And Respicio Caution Public To Be Wary And Do EIS Homework
HÅGATÑA - Senators Judi P. Guthertz and Rory J. Respicio are pleased by environmental impact review extension, but they warn Guam citizens not to expect much help in spotting negative findings from federally funded consultants.
After weeks of loud complaints on Guam that the forthcoming draft environmental impact statement could not possibly receive adequate public review and comment within a tight 45 day deadline, the Department of Defense has had a change of heart, doubling the comment period to 90 days. That word from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, who was told this, "will assure the interests of the citizens of Guam are fully represented in the study."
Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment Roger Natsuhara, visiting Guam this week, communicated this decision to Governor Camacho and members of the Guam Legislature.
"We're certainly pleased to have been heard on this," said Senator Guthertz, "but the question that remains is whether we can do a meaningful review of this 7,000 to 9,000 page technical document within the time frame and with the limited resources available to us."
She attributed the federal government's quick and positive response to the seemingly concerted effort of local leaders advocating for the same goal. "Imagine the attention and favorable results we would get if the governor empanelled the Guam First Commission. The feds would certainly take notice of our requests."
Senator Respicio added, "Telling us to depend on the Matrix analysis is like asking those who do not support our perspective or approach to prepare our position papers." He explained that all he's heard so far from Matrix is a promise to summarize points in the document to help the public review it. "Don't expect Cliff's Notes or any helpful pointers about how to identify problems that are hidden in the scientific jargon," stated Respicio.
Earlier, Senator Guthertz' request for funds to hire outside expertise to analyze the DEIS was turned down by Department of the Interior on the grounds that the governor's office already had the Matrix consulting firm working on an analysis. Legislators have objected, questioning in particular whether the interest of Matrix was in a critical analysis of the DEIS and identifying errors or flaws or simply greasing the wheels for the military buildup that it serves as a primary consultant.
Here is a news release from Congresswoman Bordallo's Washington, D.C. office recounting the Representative's meeting with the Secretary of the Navy:
Congresswoman Bordallo Meets With U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus
October 28, 2009 - Washington, D.C. - Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo today met with the Honorable Ray E. Mabus, Jr., Secretary of the U.S. Navy. The meeting was held at Congresswoman Bordallo's office in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Secretary Mabus is the 75th Secretary of the Navy and was formerly the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
"During our meeting, Secretary Mabus informed me that the public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement relating to the military buildup on Guam will be extended to 90 days," Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo said today. "I appreciate the Navy's response to our concerns regarding the public comment period. I also discussed the importance of the Department of Defense being more proactive in supporting H.R. 44, and I requested that this message be relayed to the Secretary of Defense. I appreciate the efforts taken by this new Administration to address Guam's needs for the build-up, and I look forward to working with Secretary Mabus and the Obama Administration on these issues."