Maintaining open dialogue; upholding laws to protect and preserve natural, cultural resources on Guam

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Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson Commander, Joint Region Marianas

Editorial by Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson
Commander, Joint Region Marianas

The Joint Region Marianas (JRM) relationship with Guam and its people is
very special and vitally significant. For more than seven decades we have
faced challenges and adversities that are often unique to our small island
community. Together we have experienced super typhoons and natural
disasters; we have responded to regional crises and humanitarian assistance
needs of our larger regional community, and most recently we came together
to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

This shared interest in taking care of our island community is the bedrock
of our common bond. Furthermore, this sense of Inafa Mao’lek is the impetus
for a deeper mutual understanding of our diverse military and civilian
populations and ultimately the foundation for stronger relationships between
them.

Admittedly, no relationship is perfect. We have our challenges, and there
will sometimes be differences in priorities and missions. However, as we
embark on new endeavors and initiatives in the defense of our island, region
and nation, we must always keep in mind open dialogue, shared trust and
mutual respect remains crucial to our ability to forge a path together to
ensure a free, safe, and thriving Guam.

To that end, JRM will continue to plan and execute the Marine Corps
relocation to Guam in a responsible, collaborative, and transparent manner,
and we are committed to the same for any future military growth. We
understand that our actions will speak volumes in terms of seeking solutions
for the entire community. We remain completely engaged and dedicated to
fighting ‘from Guam and for Guam’ in an effort to fulfill our mission to
defend a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Marine Corps Realignment to Guam, Archaeological Discoveries during
Construction

On behalf of the Department of Defense (DoD), JRM, in partnership with the
Government of Guam and several local community and cultural organizations,
established the 2011 Programmatic Agreement (PA) to protect cultural
resources during the Marine Corps Relocation.

Under this PA, and consistent with federal laws which protect cultural and
historic resources, the DoD is required to consult with the Guam State
Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and Advisory Council on Historic
Preservation (ACHP) to ensure discoveries undergo rigorous archaeological
study and that known or new historic and prehistoric sites are properly
managed.

Recognizing that no pre-construction survey can be 100% definitive in its
identification of archaeological sites, the DoD and Government of Guam
established an archaeological monitoring process to provide further
assurance that any previously unknown sites would be detected, analyzed,
reported, and appropriately addressed. This monitoring process takes place
before vegetation clearing, during vegetation clearing and stump removal,
and again during construction grading, in an effort to ensure the
identification and appropriate treatment of any new discoveries.

The 2011 PA also requires the DoD to provide oversight of construction
activities by professional archaeologists, including site checks and
responding to and reporting discoveries. Following dispute resolution
agreements with SHPO in 2018 and 2020, the Navy implemented additional
monitoring requirements on five large projects, including two firing ranges,
the main cantonment area of the Marine base, water wells, and the urban
combat training complex (at Andersen South). In concert with our
consultative partners at the SHPO’s office, JRM and our DoD agency partners
have worked tirelessly to protect the historic and cultural heritage of
Guam, and are proud of the hard-working people engaged in that important
task.

The DoD team of professional archaeologists carefully records locations of
all archaeological discoveries throughout Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Blaz.
However, the confidentiality provisions in the National Park Service
Archaeological Resources Protection Act precludes us from releasing all of
the related information to the public. The law specifically requires the
protection of the information and locations of archaeological resources in
order to avoid any risk of harm to those resources. This is not to hide
heritage from the public, but to preserve heritage and ensure those without
proper archeological training do not harm the sites.

We collaborate daily with the SHPO’s office to maintain a fine balance
between sharing cultural information with the community and upholding the
regulations and laws designed to protect sensitive cultural resources.

Through this collaborative process, many significant cultural resources have
been preserved in place and/or avoided during the planning phase of the
Marine Corps relocation. While the preference is to preserve sites and
resources in place, in the event that avoidance is not possible, the 2011 PA
has a provision that allows data recovery as standard mitigation in
coordination with the SHPO. The careful and meticulous archaeological work
allows us to permanently record the important details and physical evidence
of Guam’s history to share with the public and our future generations.

Additionally, we eagerly anticipate the opening of the Guam Cultural
Repository at the University of Guam and conservation of Guam’s priceless
cultural resources and preservation of Guam’s story for present and future
generations. This facility was made possible by a $12 million DoD grant,
and will serve as a key resource for ongoing archaeological research,
education, and interpretive activities by and for the people of Guam.

Investing in Environmentally Responsible Construction
Throughout the various construction projects on Guam, the DoD has
implemented protective actions to safeguard the island’s precious resources.
In coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a
host of federal and local resource protection agencies, the DoD conducts
thorough environmental reviews, including Environmental Impact Statements,
to assess and subsequently mitigate environmental hazards. In the process
of these environmental reviews, the DoD consults with federal and local
agency partners to develop and implement environmental mitigation measures
to address or avoid potential environmental impacts.

For example, in order to address the concerns regarding the possibility of
groundwater contamination from the construction and operation of the
Multi-Purpose Machine Gun Range, the DoD has developed a strict set of
environmental monitoring and range procedures. Included in the plans for
the construction of the range complex are multiple-celled ponding basin
systems approved by the Guam EPA that will ensure removal of pollutants such
as phosphorus, nitrogen, and metals, including lead. The DoD’s Office of
Economic Adjustment awarded a $3.7 million grant to Guam Water Authority to
expand the Northern Guam Lens Aquifer’s monitoring network, a measure which
will benefit all the residents of Guam for years to come.

Additionally, and related to the military’s construction on Guam, the DoD
has awarded nearly $4 million toward habitat preservation projects on Guam
through the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI)
program. The program allows the DoD to partner with willing landowners to
preserve property for natural and cultural resources. Basically, the DoD
pays the landowner to not develop the land in order to preserve the
habitat. The award represents DoD’s enduring commitment to protect and
preserve Guam’s natural resources through mutually beneficial partnerships.
This effort builds upon our longstanding commitment to environmental
stewardship in our island community.

The DoD has similarly funded numerous upgrades to infrastructure on Guam, to
include roadway improvements, water, and wastewater infrastructure
improvements, and the modernization of the Guam commercial port. JRM and
the DoD are committed to the protection and preservation of the island
environment by continuing to work closely with our partners, listening to
community concerns, and to doing our part to maintain and upgrade Guam’s
infrastructure for the benefit of the entire island.

We are thankful for Guam and its people for supporting our troops and the
national security mission. Your support is important to sustaining and
growing the military’s capabilities to meet the unexpected, defend this
region, uphold our nation’s ideals, and be counted amongst the most ready
and capable forces of the United States. Biba Guam!

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