Hikers worry about site access: Military plans would restrict public from lands
By Brett Kelman • Pacific Daily News • December 13, 2009
A series of hikes in January will take anyone who wants to go to five natural sites before they become more difficult, impossible or illegal to visit when the military buildup arrives.
Guam Boonie Stompers President Dave Lotz hopes to take as many people as he can to places such as Pagat Cave before the Department of Defense utilizes these areas. He hopes enamored hikers will join his cause to preserve the access local residents have now.
Pagat Cave is a sinkhole and stone cavern in Yigo filled with cool, waist-deep water and candlelight. Locals and tourists swim in the cave and explore the coast almost every day. An ancient Chamorro village once drew fresh water from the cave, Lotz said. Artifacts pepper the ground.
The military will build a firing range next door.
When the Boonie Stompers hike to Pagat Cave on Jan. 2, some residents might go there for the first time.
Or for the last time.
"Go while you can," Lotz said on Dec. 4. "Obviously we want to garner support for our cause, but realistically we may not prevail. But we are optimistic we will."
The military buildup will bring about 8,000 Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam in the next few years. Air Force and Navy operations will expand as well.
As the military's presence grows, so will its borders.
According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement released on Nov. 20, the Department of Defense will acquire or transform large portions of land in northern, central and southern Guam for its increased needs.
There are a lot of hiking sites on that land, and the Guam Boonie Stompers want to ensure the public will not lose access to them completely after the Marines arrive, Lotz said.
Three of the hikes -- Pagat Cave, Ague Cove and the Lajuna area -- are on land the public will lose access to, according to the Draft EIS report. Access to Mount Lamlam and other southern mountains won't be restricted significantly, but Lotz isn't taking chances.
"In some of them (restriction) seems quite apparent, in others it's ambiguous," Lotz said. "As we have seen on this island -- and I've been here 40 years -- access is basically at the whims of the base commander."
The access craved by hikers such as Lotz must be balanced with military needs and public safety, according to an e-mail from Joint Guam Program Office spokesman Capt. Neil Ruggiero.
It is not the military's intent to unnecessarily restrict access, Ruggiero wrote.
Although the preferred plans listed in the Draft EIS state that public access to Pagat Cave, Ague Cove and the Lajuna area would end, Ruggiero wrote that it is premature to assume that all access to these areas will be prohibited. Comments from the public could change plans for the future.
"Comments on the DEIS, to include those on the subject of access, will be analyzed and considered in the development of the Final EIS. Thus, final decisions have not been made at this time, and specific policies regarding public access to military bases and facilities on Guam will be determined by the Joint Region and base commanders," Ruggiero wrote in his e-mail.
According to a preliminary statement prepared by the Boonie Stompers, Lotz and his fellow hikers will request the military include specific plans and schedules for continued access to the noteworthy places that could be gobbled up by the buildup.
If a plan for public access isn't spelled out, Lotz worries access could wither over time until it barely exists -- like at Fena Caves.
The caves are the site of a brutal World War II massacre that sits on Navy property in Santa Rita. A small group of mourners are allowed to visit the caves once a year, but the site is otherwise closed to the public.
If access to Pagat Cave and the other sites are going to be restricted in a similar way, the public should get something in return, Lotz said.
The Boonie Stompers will request the military create access to areas including Haputo Beach, Double Reef Beach, Orote Point, Fena Caves and Tarague Beach as an exchange, according to the statement.
Ruggerio did not respond to a question about whether renewed access to these areas was a possibility.