CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Navy has recommended placing firing ranges on Andersen Air Force Base instead of Guam’s ancient ancestral lands in its latest environmental impact report — largely seen as one of the final hurdles to moving 4,700 Marines and their families off Okinawa as part of the Pacific realignment.
In addition to recommending that Andersen’s Northwest Field be used for the firing ranges, the draft supplemental report released Friday also suggested stretching out the construction over a number of additional years, avoiding the acquisition of non-federal land and lessening the overall strain on Guam’s residents and infrastructure. The draft says there would be fewer people on the island, lower demand for power and potable water and less solid waste and wastewater. Personnel would be concentrated on the island’s northern end.
The Navy’s about-face was applauded Friday by Guam officials who said the recommendations show the process works and are a testament to the collaborative effort between the U.S. military and Guam’s people.
“The administration is pleased,” said Mark Calvo, director of the Government of Guam Military Buildup Office. “Our concerns were heard, and they’re adapting. This is a major milestone in moving forward with the relocation of Marines to Guam.”
Calvo, who is a veteran and distant cousin of Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, said the stretched- out construction timeline, from an intense seven-year boom to a moderate 13-year schedule, is more manageable for the tiny U.S. territory. It also reduces the military’s footprint.
Calvo said the addition of the Marines to Guam is viewed positively by upwards of 85 percent of the population.
The draft supplemental report is years in the making, following a 2010 Final Environmental Impact Statement and subsequent Record of Decision that deferred a decision on the live-fire training range complex. A 2011 agreement between the Navy and Guam placed the complex along Route 15 in the Pagat coastal area, despite fervent opposition. Pagat is home to ancient indigenous Chamorro graves and archeological sites.
A 2012 agreement between the U.S. and Japanese governments reduced the number of Marines heading to Guam from 8,600 and 9,000 dependents, leading to the reconsideration of certain aspects of the plan, which included alternative sites for the firing ranges.
While the placement of the ranges has always been the most contentious issue, the acquisition of non-federal land also raised Guamanian ire. Plans originally called for the acquisition of 688 acres of non-federal land for the cantonment, which is essentially headquarters, administration, housing and support facilities at Finegayan and more than 1,000 acres for the ranges.
Under the draft supplemental proposal, that non-federal land is no longer needed.
Calvo said the public will have 60 days to comment, followed about a year later by a final Environmental Impact Statement. Then, a few months later, another Record of Decision should follow. If Congress then unfreezes funding for the move, construction can begin.
The Marine move to Guam is seen as a major piece of the realignment of forces in the Pacific and a way to reduce tensions in Japan, which is home to more than 50,000 American servicemembers.
Of the estimated $8.6 billion price tag for Guam redevelopment, Japan has agreed to pay $2.8 billion, of which $907 million has already been transferred. An additional $19 million is budgeted and pending.
Stars and Stripes’ reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.