Monday, October 05, 2009

DEIS on the Horizon

After months of waiting, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the much talked about, less known about, military buildup of Guam is almost here. Certain GovGuam and Federal officials are already peeks at it, or are being given presentations on it.

I haven't heard much about it from the Governor's Office and very little from the Feds whom I know have received parts of it. But, today after a Joint Guam Program Office briefing of the Guam Legislature, its apparent that there will be plenty to worry or complain about. The KUAM News article I'm pasting below discusses the water issue, and the possibility of the United States military digging their own wells into Guam's aquafier. This is a very serious issues, but one which hasn't received much attention, especially since the problems that GovGuam had with the Navy's control over water at Fena have quieted down.

A commentor on the Guam Pacific Daily News website, recently said something which was gof dongkalu na stupid, yet also somehow insightful. Esta hu gof tungo' na i umaliligao finayi gi PDN comments, i mismo i mas brodie, but nonetheless sometimes I do glance down on their articles to see if anyone has any interesting comments, or better one, one's which have some relevance to reality. I've pasted below a PDN article as well, which discusses potential logistical and content related problems with the DEIS from a much more sympathetic angle. Taking great pains to not focus on the negatives or the holes in our tiningo', the article underscores what lengths JGPO is willing to undergo to ensure that the public can read this 10 volume - possible several thousand page document:

Senators want copies of the EIS study available at public libraries and mayors' offices, but making copies of the voluminous document is quite costly. Guthertz said JGPO officials will work to have electronic copies available and possibly have computers at certain locations or during outreach meetings so the public can more easily review the study.

When I read this article online, there was only one comment, and it was as predicted a taitiningo' one. The commentor complained about the Legislature getting involved in the buildup process, trying to influence it, affect it, ask questions about it, arguing that the Legislature is just a small piece in a vast Federal puzzle, and that shouldn't be making too big a deal about this, since there are plenty of other agencies out there who are taking care of the buildup. The comment ends with a chilling, "Senators, get your priorities correct. The military buildup will take care of itself."
Although I don't agree with this person's position, they are absolutely right in the sense that the Legislature is a very very small piece in this puzzle, but it is one of the few pieces that ever provides the public any information about the military buildup. Other agencies, don't regularly provide reports or disclose information and so frankly in terms of asking not only the hard questions, but simply any question at all, the Leyesleturan Guahan is usually Guam's only hope.

The comment that "the military buildup will take care of itself" is also instructive. So much is made of the fact that this DEIS will be made public and that anyone can comment on it, and this is constantly put out there by JGPO, by those who sometimes rabidly support the buildup as evidence that Guam has a say, that Guam is involved in the process, but when you just think about it for a moment, it is a sham. Not even considering the issue of whether or not public comments on the DEIS end up in a yawning black hole or not, the simple idea of giving random everyday people, or even interested people such as myself 45 days to read a 10 volume, several thousand page document is laughable. The idea of JGPO placing computers at their meetings so people can skim through the DEIS is like some stupid twisted joke.

What we've unfortunately learned over the past few years in this process, is that while we are constantly told that this is a public process, where the public can comment until their fingers bleed from writing, it is in reality not meant to be open at all. It is, as the PDN commentor noted, a process which is meant to take care of itself. It is something never meant to actually be changed by anything anyone in the "public" says, but rather something negotiated with Federal and local agencies, who sadly tend spend more time in bed with each other (or worrying about whether they will lose Federal funds if they ask any questions), then actually working towards Guam's interests. Unless, guaha un milagro mana'fanhuyong, the 45 day comment window will be a sham, and any comments submitted will be filed and forgotten. There will most likely be no suprises for the military, no last minute radical mitigation projects or changes that need to be made.

Regardless of whether you support this military buildup or not, this point alone, that so much energy has been put into convincing us that its an open process, when its in actuality not, should get you concerned. This is the everyday ideological assumption that everyone uses to justify or excuse this buildup. Since Guam was not included in any of the early negotiations, we are included in these sorts of comment meetings. We get to provide our input at different stages and most people never give any input, because the idea that we have that outlet alone is enough to sate most people, even if they have concerns. Its one of those short circuits in democracy, where a gesture or the appearance of benevolence can go very far in terms of deactivating people, their worries, their issues. So long as there is something there, so long as there is a part of this massive organism that makes me feel I can trust it (such as the ability and potential for public comment), then its fine to let things take care of themselves.

To read the report the Legislature got, just click here to download it.

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Not all senators pleased with JGPO's plans
KUAM News
Posted: Oct 05, 2009 5:00 PM
by Nick Delgado

The Joint Guam Program Office provided an overview brief on the draft environmental impact statement to lawmakers today. While the draft EIS will be released for public comment at a later time, it's apparent some lawmakers aren't too happy about the details of today's briefing.

Senator Matt Rector (D) announced, "What they told is that look we're going to tap our own wells and we're going to suck up all the water from your aquifer because you tap a well on federal property. The aquifer is the aquifer, and we'll have absolutely no control over how much water they draw out of our aquifer." He added, "The one thing that they can't do and meet their timelines is to build their own wastewater system. They have to tap into ours. That's the one shining thing that I found out at this study."

It was more than obvious that Rector and his senatorial colleagues didn't like what they heard this morning during a briefing with JGPO representatives. Like her Democrat colleague, Speaker Judi Won Pat is upset that lawmakers are once again being kept out of the loop when it comes to updates on the military buildup. "We were under the impression that all the departments and agencies were given copies of this and sign a disclosure to review it and provide comment, only to find that there were only five agencies that were given," she told KUAM News,

Those agencies include Coastal Management, the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Public Works, the Historic Preservation Trust, and the Department of Agriculture. The speaker adds that the naval facilities will invite those agencies to Hawaii for a one-day meeting on October 8 to explain their comments in to the EIS.

However, she disagrees with the meeting being held off-island. "We're the ones being impacted by this," she proclaimed. "Why wouldn't they want to hold that one meeting here where all the different departments and agencies are here and could provide the information? And the last thing is that this all going to be at our expense, our dime. We're going to have to pay for these individuals to go over there?"

That, coupled with the draft EIS consisting of thousands of pages that must be reviewed, prompted Rector to say, "And they've made that very clear when they do this, they said we're going to give you this 11,000-page document and you have 45 days to review it and come back and tell us what you want."

Rector added, "How are we supposed to put meaningful input into this and come back and say, 'Look, you shouldn't do this, you shouldn't do that' - we just are never going to be able to do it and they've made that perfectly clear. They're going to have the meetings in Hawaii and turn around and tell us, 'Here's what we're going to do, thank you very much!'"

It's an issue the speaker says lawmakers will now take up with the governor. As for island residents, you'll have an opportunity to give your input beginning November 20.

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45 days to review buildup draft study
By Dionesis Tamondong • Pacific Daily News • October 6, 2009

Senators are concerned the public won't be given adequate time to properly review and comment on a draft study of the military buildup's environmental impact to Guam.

The Joint Guam Program Office yesterday gave an overview and update of the draft Environmental Impact Statement to several senators. The detailed study, consisting of 10 volumes and thousands of pages, looks at the potential consequences the planned military projects will have on the island's environment.

The draft study is scheduled to be published Nov. 20 on the Federal Register, said Sen. Judith Guthertz, chairwoman of the legislative committee on the military buildup. Government of Guam agencies and the public will have 45 days to go over the study and comment on it.

The pending buildup includes plans to build a base for thousands of U.S. Marines, facilities for recurring visits by an aircraft carrier group, an Army ballistic missile defense facility and expansions to Andersen Air Force Base and the Navy base on island.

No project will break ground until after military officials issue a record of decision, which authorizes which projects can move forward. Guthertz said that authorization is expected in early January.

"We have to have it as early as possible so we can have as much time to review it," Guthertz said. "We need every GovGuam agency to diligently review it, and we need a strong community response."

Guthertz, citing JGPO officials, said the military is looking at operating its own water system, which would require digging for water wells.

But the military is planning to integrate its wastewater system into the local system, which would require expanding the northern sewage treatment plant.
Doing so would mean the military could help pay for the expansion of the wastewater system, including additional projects recently required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The federal EPA denied the renewal of two federal Clean Water Act waivers to the Guam Waterworks Authority, and will require Guam Waterworks Authority to apply secondary treatment for the Hagåtña and Tanguisson wastewater facilities.

GWA officials have said those expansion projects could cost about $300 million and would require steep increases to customers' water bills.

Senators want copies of the EIS study available at public libraries and mayors' offices, but making copies of the voluminous document is quite costly. Guthertz said JGPO officials will work to have electronic copies available and possibly have computers at certain locations or during outreach meetings so the public can more easily review the study.

The only local regulatory agencies that have had a chance to review the draft are the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Statistics and Plans' Coastal Management Program, the Department of Park and Recreation's State Historical Preservation Office and the Department of Agriculture's Division of Aquatics and Wildlife.

But Guthertz said every agency must have ample time to review it because the buildup will change the island's landscape socially and economically -- not just environmentally.

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