Sasayan landowners stand their ground: Residents refuse military's requests to survey land in northern Guam
By Amritha Alladi • Pacific Daily News • December 28, 2009
Landowner Joseph Sgambelluri shows the pristine beachside of the Sasayan area in northern Guam on Dec. 18.
Sixty-one-year-old Lourdes Sgambelluri Pisarri remembers learning to swim in the Marbo Caves.
When she was 6, her grandfather, Marcello Sgambelluri, took her down to the freshwater caves, where she saw lobster and shrimp crawling at the bottom of the pool, and the stalactites and stalagmites jutting from its walls.
"It's freshwater that abuts the ocean. It's one of the most miraculous things that you can have," Pisarri said. "A freshwater pool, and the ocean is right there next to it."
But in a few months, access to those caves may be limited, and the lands where Pisarri's family farmed may be tainted with runoff from a decontamination facility and shooting range to be built there by the military, as part of their buildup projects, Pisarri said.
It's about 1,000 acres of ancestral land that's been in the Sgambelluri family for almost 100 years, Pisarri said. Now, the military is planning to construct a Marine training facility there.
"It's really a travesty of justice," she said.
Pisarri, who currently lives in New York, said she received a letter from the military earlier this year, asking if it could survey her lands and perform EPA studies there, she said.
In response, Pisarri wrote a letter to the director of the Joint Guam Program Office, John Jackson, saying she didn't want the military to place one foot on her property. She copied the letter to President Obama, Guam delegate Madeleine Bordallo, Gov. Felix Camacho, Sen. Judith Guthertz, and Retired Adm. Ed Kristensen among others, of whom only Guthertz, chairwoman of the Legislature's buildup committee, responded to the letter, she said.
"Bottom line is, I did write to the military to tell them -- in no uncertain terms --that I didn't want anybody stepping one foot on my property," Pisarri said. "I also told them I don't want one coconut tree destroyed that my grandfather planted 90 years ago."
Instead, Pisarri suggested the military use their own unused lands within the Andersen Air Force Base, but JGPO officials have told her EPA regulations prohibit the use of those lands.
"Frankly, (JGPOs public information officer Capt. Neil Ruggiero) stated that much of the military land was saving the lives of various animals, as an conservation area for birds," Pisarri wrote to JGPO.
"It unnerved me that you would first consider displacing people who have lived on our land for many years."
A statement provided by Ruggiero to the Pacific Daily News last week reiterated the Defense Department has tried to utilize its own property for the military realignment, but must follow federal environmental laws and planning processes to determine the best locations for the facilities and ranges necessary for the military realignment.
"The military is also considering feedback collected through discussions with village mayors, Government of Guam officials, and the Legislature. Through this process it has been determined that certain facilities, such as training ranges, will not fit on DOD properties without possible negative effects on Guam's citizens," Ruggiero said. "We have also learned that it may be wise to develop property near existing bases to allow functions to be grouped together in one location and eliminate the need to travel from one range or training area to another. This will ease impacts, such as traffic, on the surrounding community."
But Pisarri and other residents have said land leasing, monetary compensation, or the promise of providing land elsewhere are not options they would consider because most residents in the area acknowledge the land's value.
For example, Pisarri's brother, Joseph Sgambelluri, said the land in the Sasayan area facing the ocean is ideal for them to build family homes for their children to settle down.
"This area here is just too nice, too beautiful to use as a military site," added Virginia Stadler, another resident of the valley. "There are people that are thinking of building their homes ... to pass it on to their children and grandchildren."
Plus, Pisarri said the Chamorros are still waiting to be compensated for the way they were mistreated during World War II.
"My parents and the rest of the people on Guam have not yet been compensated by the United States," she said, adding the Japanese, the Jewish, the Native Americans, the Filipinos, and residents of Saipan have all been compensated after the atrocities they've faced throughout history.
"Why are the people of Guam being discriminated (against)? Why have they not been compensated?" she said.
But perhaps there's hope for the Sgambelluri family.
Guthertz has said she and other Guam senators have obtained assurances from JGPO Executive Director Retired Maj. Gen. David Bice, that condemnation is not part of the plan for obtaining buildup lands. However, in a recent television appearance, Jackson said that all options including condemnation are "on the table," creating further confusion.
Thus, Guthertz will be holding a public hearing tomorrow to allow Guam residents to voice their concerns.
Joseph Sgambelluri will be among those present at the hearing to share their comments. Pisarri said her brother will be reading out her letter at the hearing, since she's miles away.
"I've been fighting the fight for a while now. I just know that people need to voice their opinion," Pisarri said. "We don't mind bringing men to Guam, but this is an overtaking."