National Trust for Historic Preservation sues DoD

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Washington, D.C. (November 17, 2010) – Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, joined by the Guam Preservation Trust and We Are Guåhan, filed a legal action against the U.S. Department of Defense challenging its plans to construct a complex of five firing ranges in Guam that are immediately adjacent to and directed toward an ancient settlement, Pågat Village. The firing ranges are a component of the Guam “Buildup,” a multi-billion dollar effort to relocate 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to the small U.S. territory in the Pacific. This action does not challenge the Buildup itself, but seeks to compel the Department of Defense to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Coastal Zone Management Act and the National Historic Preservation Act by giving adequate consideration to alternative locations for the firing ranges, as mandated by law.

Pågat Village, the last remaining and best preserved pre-colonial site owned by the Government of Guam, is revered by Guam’s indigenous Chamorro people and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the small island’s most tangible links to its ancient past, frequented by educators, traditional healers, fishermen and the public at large. The Chamorro, who comprise almost half of Guam’s population, believe Pågat is a dwelling place for the souls of their ancestors and they visit Pågat often to seek advice and engage in traditional cultural and religious activities.

The proposed firing range plan would require federal acquisition of over 1,000 acres of public and private land, including Pågat’s significant cultural sites. The ranges would cause significant harm to Pågat’s historic setting, and would place Pågat within the “Surface Danger Zone” of the firing ranges, leaving the site vulnerable to damage, and dramatically curtailing the public’s ability to access and experience this sacred place. The threat to Pågat Village spurred the National Trust to place the site on its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in May of this year.

“Bringing legal action against the Department of Defense is not a decision we make lightly,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust. “However, after repeated efforts to persuade the military to move the firing ranges away from this culturally sensitive site, we believe that litigation is our only remaining option. We are inspired by the overwhelming public support for protecting Pågat, and we share the conviction of Guam’s government that the military can effectively train the next generation of soldiers without placing Pågat in harm’s way.”

The National Trust repeatedly submitted extensive comments to military officials over the last year, urging that alternate sites for the firing ranges be considered. Those efforts have been bolstered by intense local opposition to the proposed plan. In September 2010, the Guam legislature passed a unanimous resolution stating that Pågat Village should not be used for a firing range complex. Guam’s Congressional delegate also has made repeated calls for changes to the military’s plan. Despite the widespread opposition, the Department of Defense has been unwavering in its refusal to consider alternative locations for the firing ranges.

The lawsuit was filed in Honolulu, where the environmental review process was coordinated by the Navy. The plaintiffs are represented by pro bono counsel Nicholas C. Yost and Matthew Adams, both of SNR Denton US LLP’s San Francisco office. As former general counsel of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, Yost was the lead drafter of the NEPA regulations and is widely recognized as one of the nation’s top environmental lawyers. He was the recipient of the American Bar Association's 2010 Award for Distinguished Achievement in Environmental Law and Policy. SNR Denton is an international law firm with a longstanding commitment to pro bono activities to further the rule of law.

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