Staff members of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense, tour proposed sites on Guam for a planned integrated missile defense system for the island, Aug. 9, 2023.

Staff members of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense, tour proposed sites on Guam for a planned integrated missile defense system for the island, Aug. 9, 2023. (Shaina O’Neal/U.S. Navy)

Guam’s acting governor has asked for a two-month extension for a comment period on the military’s plan for live-fire missile defense tests for the island over the next decade.

In a letter Monday to the head of the Missile Defense Agency, Acting Gov. Josh Tenorio requested that the 30-day comment period for the environmental assessment on the proposed tests be extended to 90 days.

“The Government of Guam recognizes the importance of national security and the role of our island in that mission,” he wrote. “However, the proposed activities have the potential to significantly impact our environment, our economy and the daily lives of our residents.”

An extension of the original July 2 deadline would give the Guam government additional time “to review the assessment thoroughly, consult relevant experts, and engage in meaningful discussions with our community stakeholders,” Tenorio wrote.

The U.S. military plans up to two live-fire missile defense tests each year over the next decade from Guam and from nearby waters as it develops an integrated defense system for the strategically important island.

The Missile Defense Agency released a 378-page environmental assessment earlier this month that lays out its plan to track and destroy target missiles in cooperation with the Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard.

The first test is slated for the last three months of this year.

The two annual flight tests or tracking exercises would be conducted from Andersen Air Force Base or from a U.S. Navy ship afloat in the Western Pacific, according to the environmental assessment.

The assessment concluded that “no significant direct, indirect, or cumulative environmental impacts” would occur from the testing.

Tenorio wrote that he was troubled over plans for residents near the land-based test site.

“I am most especially concerned about any impacts on land owners, including the possibility of the need to evacuate their properties during testing,” he wrote.

Tenorio cited two passages from the environmental assessment that raised the possibility of evacuation.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the Department may request some landowners on the boundaries of [Andersen] remain away from their properties during test events to ensure their safety,” one passage reads.

A second passage states in part, “The Proposed Action may result in temporary public and private land access restrictions in the vicinity of [Andersen]. These temporary restrictions would be rare (one to two times per year) and would be in place for up to four days.”

Robert Underwood, chairman of the Pacific Center for Island Security, a Guam-based group that describes itself as “an action-oriented research institute,” welcomed the idea of extending the comment period.

“Acting Governor Tenorio’s request is critical since the MDA did not issue a draft proposal before this final proposal was released for ‘review,’” Underwood said in a statement Monday. “Fully assessing the community impact requires more than a 30-day notice that the MDA provided, particularly given the impact on landowners and residents in northern Guam.”

Indo-Pacific Command has made completion of the Guam Missile Defense System a top priority for the region.

The U.S. territory is home to Andersen, Naval Base Guam and Camp Blaz, a massive Marine Corps base still under construction.

The island would serve as a crucial hub in the event of a conflict with China because of the island’s proximity to the highly contested South China Sea.

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.

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