Maintaining open and transparent dialogue; upholding laws to further protect and preserve natural and cultural resources in Guam
The Joint Region Marianas 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 remain 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, JRM, in partnership with the Government of Guam and several local community and cultural organizations, established the 2011 Programmatic Agreement 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 and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation 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 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 a 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 in Guam, the DoD has implemented protective actions to safeguard the island’s precious resources. In coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 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 in Guam, the DoD has awarded nearly $4 million toward habitat preservation projects in Guam through the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration 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 in 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!
* * *
Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson is commander of Joint Region Marianas.