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U.S. won't use culturally sensitive area for Marine firing ranges, Guam officials told

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 20, 2011

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Military officials told Guam leaders on Thursday that they will not use the culturally significant Pagat Village for Marine firing ranges, according to the Guam governor’s office.

A delegation including Navy Undersecretary Robert Work and Jackalynne Pfannensteil, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment, met with Gov. Eddie Calvo and Guam legislators Thursday to discuss contentious issues surrounding the massive buildup project, which plans to transfer 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

The delegation told Calvo that the military would not build proposed firing ranges on Pagat Village land, Troy Torres, Calvo’s communications director, told Stars and Stripes.

“The undersecretary also informed the governor of the Defense Department’s commitment by end of the military buildup to having a smaller land footprint than it does now,” Torres said in a telephone interview.

The military owns about 30 percent of Guam’s land, including Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam.

Messages left at the military’s Guam Joint Program Office for comment were not returned by deadline.

Local media outlets also reported that Work guaranteed unimpeded access to both Pagat Village and Pagat Cave. The sites are said to contain important artifacts and are considered to be among the best preserved lands on an island that was ravaged during World War II.

The Pagat issue has been a sticking point in the project.

Last week, Navy officials granted Calvo an extension to Jan. 31 to sign off on a programmatic agreement dictating how historic sites and unearthed artifacts will be treated. On Thursday, Work said that the Jan. 31 deadline was a misconception. Although delaying the agreement could postpone the flow of $1 billion in project funds to Guam, talks will continue past January if necessary.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding on this,” Work said, according to local media outlet KUAM. “The U.S. Government and the Department of Navy never meant to set an ultimatum or a deadline to the governor or the Legislature.”

Guam Legislature Speaker Judith Won Pat downplayed the announcements, saying that while Pagat Village itself may be protected, important areas surrounding it remained imperiled.

The military is considering land along Route 15 as an alternate area for the training ranges. That land is also part of Pagat, Won Pat said.

Won Pat added that Work’s pledge to reduce the footprint lacked specifics. Federal law requires excess military property to be returned to Guam, she said.

“They don’t currently have excess land,” Won Pat said. “As they continue with the process, they may be identifying some land.”

slavine@pstripes.osd.mil

 

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