Written by Brian Turner
On Tuesday, November 15, 2011, the U.S. Navy announced that it has decided to re-evaluate plans for a firing range complex that it had planned to build at an ancient settlement and important cultural site on Guam, Pågat Village. In a filing with the U.S. District Court in Hawai’i, the Director of the Joint Guam Program Office, Joseph D. Ludovici, stated that “the Navy has determined that additional analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] is appropriate.” As a result, the Navy is committing to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will evaluate a range of alternative sites for a live-fire training range complex and incorporate public input. The review process is expected to take at least two years and will include public scoping.
The filing marks an important victory for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and co-plaintiffs Guam Preservation Trust and We Are Guåhan, who filed a lawsuit against the Navy’s plan in November 2010. Indeed, the Navy’s recent change of heart and commitment to prepare a Supplemental EIS is exactly what the groups had asked the court to order. Prior to the lawsuit, the groups had strenuously urged the Navy to complete such study during consultation under the National Historic Preservation Act.
In a statement released today, National Trust president Stephanie Meeks said “Pågat Village is a rare and extraordinary site, filled with history and culture. It would be a travesty to lose this treasure not only for the indigenous Chamorro people, who revere Pågat Village as a place for the souls of their ancestors, but also for the general public.” (For a full copy of the statement, see press release) Guam’s Pågat Village was named one of the nation’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust in May 2010.
The Navy’s decision came one year after the lawsuit was filed by pro bono counsel, Nicholas C. Yost and Matthew Adams of SNR Denton in San Francisco, to force the Navy to comply with its NEPA obligations. As former general counsel of the President’s Council of Environmental Quality, Yost was the lead draftsperson of the NEPA regulations and is widely recognized as one of the nation’s top environmental lawyers. This important victory would not have been possible without SNR Denton’s generous legal support, and the dedicated work of local preservationists in Guam.
Brian Turner is a Senior Field Officer/Attorney at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.