Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Group aims to clear up misconceptions

Group aims to clear up misconceptions

By Amritha Alladi • Pacific Daily News • February 15, 2010

They've been to several of the draft Environmental Impact Statement meetings, and even arranged tours of some of Guam's natural and historic sites.

We Are Guåhan, a grassroots organization that formed after the draft EIS was released Nov. 20, 2009, has been advocating to keep the public informed about the military buildup, according to the group. With their mailing, phone and Facebook lists combined, the group comprises about 5,000 individuals, members of the group have said.

Four of them sat down with the Pacific Daily News last week to dispel what they felt were misconceptions about their group: Genevieve Won Pat-Borja, a special education teacher with the Guam Department of Education; Cara Flores-Mays, a small business owner; Marie Auyong, a nonprofit administrator; and Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, an English instructor at the University of Guam.

With just three days left to comment on the draft EIS, the group is urging people to comment on the draft EIS.

Question: Who is We Are Guåhan?

Flores-Mays: We are a group of concerned individuals and families, one of our goals is to get information out to the public. I don't think that's our only goal.... We're committed to a sustainable future.

Q: Would you say the group is against the buildup?

Auyong: I think that's not necessarily that black and white. I think there are a lot of people who have very nuanced perspectives on the buildup itself, ... and I think right now our project is the DEIS commenting period, and the process by which it's come about. ... We have found that information has been lacking, that perhaps some institutions have not been forthright about that and so we're trying to fill that void.

Flores-Mays: A lot of our events are aimed at communicating facts straight out of the EIS. ... So if we're against the buildup, then the EIS would be against the buildup as well.

Won Pat-Borja: If it does seem we're presenting a lot of negative information, it's because ... there are quite a large number of negative impacts.

(According to information posted on the group's Web site, taken from the draft EIS, those negative impacts include the dredging of 25 acres of reef which would eliminate some endangered turtle species, the taking of 2,500 acres of land, and the loss of 26,000 jobs from 2015 through 2017.)

Q: Are there places where you see Guam can benefit from the buildup?

Flores-Mays: I think that there's quite a bit of information out there about how Guam can benefit. However, there's always the positive and never the negative, and so I guess it may come across that we're anti-buildup because we communicate the rest of the information. ... These are points that we've taken from the economists and biologists and so we have actually discussed the benefits of the buildup.

(According to the Defense Department document, Guam's unemployment rate is expected to fall to 4 percent when Guam residents and off-islanders start taking on jobs associated with the military buildup. About 33,000 jobs for civilian workers will be created by the 2014 peak, and an additional 6,150 jobs will be provided on a "more permanent basis" thereafter.)

Q: Do you think that the buildup can be done, but just in a different way?

Flores-Mays: These are personal questions. As an organization, I think that if we were to answer these questions, they would be personal answers, ... it would be a misrepresentation.

Leon Guerrero: For so long this community has been told this is a done deal. No one should have to be told that they have no say in their future.

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