Saturday, November 28, 2009

Public needs more time to review draft EIS, group says

Public needs more time to review draft EIS, group says

By Bernice Santiago • Pacific Sunday News • November 29, 2009

The Taotaomo'na Native Rights group met yesterday to discuss the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Guam military buildup, citing concerns about the amount of time available to review the 8,000-page document before the public comment deadline on Feb. 18.

"You'd have to quit your job and stay home and read the thing in order to meet the deadline," said Patria Sablan, a member of the group. Sablan said an additional two months past Feb. 18 would be helpful to digest and comprehend the EIS.

Retired Marine Col. John J. Jackson, director of the Joint Guam Program Office, told the Pacific Daily News on Nov. 17 that the draft itself is a little less than 4,000 pages, and the appendices constitute about another 4,000 pages. The EIS document is designed to be an easy read for the "average citizen," Jackson said, while the appendices contain more technical data.

Jackson suggests residents start with volume one to understand why the Marines are relocating to Guam and to find out in which volume their subjects of interest are encompassed.

The draft EIS details how the transfer of 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam will affect the island's infrastructure, environment, community and quality of life. Plans for an Army missile defense facility and facilities for recurring visits of aircraft carriers are also included in the EIS.

Residents were originally given 45 days to review the draft EIS. The period was extended by an additional 45 days, after local government leaders asked the Department of Defense for a longer review period.

In October, Guam officials -- Sens. Judith Guthertz and Rory Respicio, Gov. Felix Camacho and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo -- had asked military officials to extend the 45-day period assigned for the public review and comment period for the draft, Pacific Sunday News files state.

Responding to their request, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told Bordallo during a meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 28 that Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn had approved an extension of 45 days, a press release issued from the Joint Guam Program Office stated.

In a letter to Maj. Gen. David Bice of the U.S. Marine Corps, Camacho had asked for an extension of 75 days, but the 45-day extension "balances the need for additional time to review a complex document with the Department's requirement to complete the military buildup on Guam on a tight schedule," the press release stated.

Camacho and members of the Guam Legislature were notified of the extension by acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment Roger Natsuhara, who visited Guam this month.

Sablan was also concerned that the structural changes and installations that come with the buildup would do permanent damage to the island. "We need to get someone to help us out, like an environmental lawyer," Sablan said.

Trini Torres, the Pilong Maga' Haga, or chief leader, for the rights group, said she didn't believe that public comments would be heeded in the final publication of the EIS.

"They don't pay attention," Torres said. "It's a formality."

Despite the activists' concerns, the local and federal environmental protection agencies are part of the review process toward the military expansions on Guam, government officials have said.

Torres plans to submit comments, which she said will be similar to her response to the draft EIS for the Mariana Islands Range Complex, she said. Torres said that the group plans to attend the public hearings on the buildup EIS in January, and that they will be splitting up sections of the EIS among them.

At a press conference on Nov. 21, Jackson said the public comments, especially legitimate concerns, do carry a lot of weight in the final decision-making process.

According to a timeline in the draft EIS, the final statement is scheduled to be available by June 30.

After a 30-day waiting period -- July 6 to Aug. 6, 2010 -- the Record of Decision is scheduled to be issued by July 30, 2010. This allows buildup-related construction to begin.

But those dates are tentative.

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