There are only six days remaining before the military can no longer legally provide open detonation emergency response to the community, since the ban on open detonation goes into effect on Feb. 27th.
Yesterday, the community provided testimony for and against Senator Sabina Perez’s Bill 35-37, which seeks to expand the definition of Public Law 36-139 to include other unexploded ordinances like Vietnam and Korean war era and U.S. origin explosives that are not treatable through alternative technologies.
Joint Region Marianas Commander Rear Admiral Benjamin Nicholson continues to ask lawmakers to repeal the ban saying that, otherwise, the military would be forced to step aside.
“Repealing the prohibition of open detonation will give stakeholders the time to necessarily confer, distinguish the different munition scenarios implicated and arrive at a solution that ensures safety and protection of the Guam community,” said Admiral Nicholson.
Nicholson added that although bill 35-37 addressess some of the concerns the Department of Defense has, others remain.
DOD attorneys advised that due to the confusion in the language of bill 35-37 the military could not legally give emergency response since the measure does not exclude the need for permits from Guam EPA for emergency response operations.
The Rear Admiral said, “I cannot order my people to do something that’s illegal and so we have to be extremely clear on the language to make sure I am not issuing an illegal order and having them do something that’s illegal.”
Adding that, “There’s wording there that needs to be, it has to be understood by all attorneys and all sides so that’s why again I’m concerned that we have enough time to put the things in and then have a through legal review before it goes into effect.”
Nicholson further said that placing permitting requirements on emergency response operations will delay them and therefore increase the probability of explosive incidents.
“The laws amended by bill 35-37 requires the bomb squad to file a permit before responding to a bomb. We don’t make the fire department file a permit before responding to a fire. First responders respond to emergencies. For the safety of life we should not slow down their response,” said Nicholson.
Meanwhile, Monaeka Flores, member of Prutehi lytekyan, said they are fully in support of the measure and asked lawmakers to go ahead with the process. Prutehi Lytekyan’s attorney, Tian Chau, responded to the Department of Defense’s view.
Chau saying,”Under this bill, where open detonation is absolutely necessary, it’ll be allowed. There’s nothing in this bill that’s going to stop emergency responders from using it. It just seeks to ensure that it’s only used when it’s absolutely necessary.”
Chau said the measure allows the military to continue to respond to emergencies even after the ban goes into effect as it doesn’t say the assessment or permit process has to be done for every explosive that is found.
“There’s no reason for Guam to not pass bill 35-37 to ensure that alternatives are being assessed for these emergency situations. Bill 35-37 doesn’t say that the assessment has to be done in each individual instance when a munition is found. This can be done ahead of time in the annual permitting with conditions worked out for munitions that haven’t been assessed yet and for which there is not time to do so when responding to an immediate emergency,” said Chau.
Senator Perez is urging the 37th Guam Legislature to include Bill 35-37 into today’s emergency session for its expeditious passage following the insights from yesterday’s hearing.