Conflict seems to be brewing over the mission of the Guam State Historic Preservation Office as shown during Thursday’s informational briefing hosted by oversight chair Senator Therese Terlaje.
After over three hours of discussions among Senators Therese Terlaje, Kelly Marsh Taitano and Sabina Perez along with newly appointed acting SHPO Patrick Lujan and State Archaeologist John Mark Joseph, one thing seemed clear, or rather, not so clear — the ultimate mission of the Guam State Historic Preservation Office.
Acting SHPO Patrick Lujan stressed that the mandate of his office is not to stop projects but to minimize or mitigate projects.
“I mean if you do not want any more development on our island, that would be a different lane from what we’re doing and I think that asking us to stop development … I don’t think that falls in line with our mandate,” Lujan said.
But Sen. Terlaje said: “The question is not whether we stop all development or we don’t. The question is do we preserve historic sites that are there and do we especially preserve sites that there’s still much that we can learn from.”
According to the SHPO, the ability to dig up certain areas of the island, such as Tumon, allowed for a closer examination of the island’s history and culture — a statement that did not seem to sit too well with oversight chair Terlaje.
“We have a duty to preserve these things for the future. I don’t want them to look back on our Northwest Field like how you look back on Tumon and say, oh boy, we lost a lot there,” Terlaje said.
At the end of the day, the three senators present during the information briefing shared the same sentiment: that it was all about preservation of historically significant properties, through avoidance and preserving in place as much as possible.
“Isn’t it clearly spelled out in the programmatic agreement that avoidance is what the goal is? Avoidance is the goal, not mitigation … none of that. Avoidance is the goal … and that’s where we expect you to stand up for us because we have a dispute, whether it can or can’t be avoided,” Terlaje said.
In addition, more public involvement during the deliberation process was requested by the lawmakers, a request contested by Lujan who says that adding another layer in the review process would further delay development projects, adding that public comments should take place during board meetings.
However, also according to Lujan, the SHPO board is not currently active enough to provide such a venue. But Terlaje maintained her stance on the mission of the SHPO, as the voice of the government and its people.
“Well, prior to the change in SHPO we had several meetings trying to ensure that we have a unified government strategy moving forward and that when we enter into negotiations, the SHPO enters into negotiations on behalf of all of us — the government and the people of Guam,” Terlaje said.
“So I hope you pursue a strategy that involves the public and the various government entities that are involved. I know our laws are not strong enough but that’s why we’re looking at human beings, right? It’s you, it’s your discretion and if we put this much discretion in an office for all the people of Guam and on our future generation’s behalf, I’m hoping that you’re going to use your discretion to protect these things for us,” she added.