Guam - The Department of Defense is being taken to court over a decision to use an area of land adjacent to the historic and culturally-rich village of Pagat for a firing range complex for U.S. Marines. The litigation looks to force the DoD to comply with federal laws.
"We did not want to get to this stage," Attorney Nicholas Yost said. "We've had many, many meetings and consultations."
Referring to it as their last resort, the Guam Historic Preservation Trust and We Are Guahan joined in a lawsuit with the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed against the Department of Defense. The lawsuit, filed in Hawaii where the environmental review process was coordinated by the Navy, challenges the military's plans to build a firing range complex adjacent to the historic village of Pagat, named one of the 11 most endangered historic sites.
Guam Historic Preservation Officer Joe Quinata said, "This action does not challenge the buildup itself. but seeks to compel the Department of Defense to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act by giving adequate consideration to alternative locations for the firing ranges, as mandated by law."
Yost, with the San Francisco-based SNR Denton, along with Matthew Adams has taken on this case pro bono as they believe the DoD has failed to comply with the NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act by giving adequate consideration to alternative locations for the firing ranges.
"At the very minimum, what we want is for them to reopen the process honestly to examine alternatives, and those alternatives include those at Andersen Air Force Base, those on Navy property, all of which are listed in the complaint," Yost explained. "There's also other places on Guam that they have suggested that they haven't looked at all. There's also the possibility of relocating the ranges to Tinian, where indeed some firing ranges are already proposed in the environmental impact statement for the future."
As the lead drafter of the NEPA regulations, Attorney Yost is all too familiar with what the law requires of the federal government. Yost contends the DoD failed to follow the law and violated numerous regulations, adding, "They restricted their surveying of sites to sites on Defense Department land except for Pagat - that is the one exception they made to the rule. Other than that they looked at just Defense Department land."
Yost adds that the alternatives the DoD discarded including sites at the naval and Air Force bases should not have been thrown out without significant review. While the most desirable outcome of the lawsuit would be to put the firing range somewhere other than Pagat, the plaintiffs are also asking that a supplemental environmental impact statement be conducted.
We Are Guahan's Attorney Leevin Camacho believes Guam's unified stance against Pagat has helped make the difference, telling KUAM News, "Pagat is the most glaring example of how the DoD made its decision a long time ago with how the buildup was gonna proceed, and litigation is never what you want to do. I say that as a lawyer. I hope this sends a message that the people of Guam are not going to sit by, as bystanders on our own island and we're going to do whatever we can to protect our home including legal action."
National Trust for Historic Preservation's Dr. Anthea Hartig says the organization is glad to be collaborating on such a historic and meaningful event. "We do not take this kind of legal action lightly, but we feel that even though we've come to it reluctantly, we come to it with a seriousness of mission and we are here for you and we're and we're deeply honored to be there with you," she explained.
For others who call Guam home, today's announcement brought tears to their eyes. Moneka De Oro says she's grateful for the organizations standing up for the people of Guam to protect our future and resources. She added, "It is a very emotional experience. This whole buildup process has been incredibly emotional, especially because the people of Guam have really been cast aside in the decision making processes, so it's very emotional for us to come to this point after gathering our community together after negotiating with the DoD in many different ways, and them not listening to us and to have to come to this. It's very emotional."
United States District Court Judge David Ezra has been assigned the case and a scheduling conference is set for February 14 in Hawaii.