Guam groups sue military over live firing range

Groups and citizens in Guam have sued the U.S. military, alleging it violated federal environmental and historic preservation laws by choosing an ancient village as the site of a new live firing range.

The Navy, in a decision announced in September, said it wants to build the training site at one of two sites in Pagat village. The range would be used by Marines due to move to the U.S. territory from Okinawa, Japan.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Honolulu said the Navy failed to adequately consider alternative locations that would have less of an impact on the environment and historic sites. It further alleged the Navy failed to adequately examine the environmental consequences of its actions.

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, whose senior officials are named as defendants in the suit, said it was unable to comment on ongoing litigation.

The suit said archaeological studies date Pagat to A.D. 700, while traditional knowledge indicates the village was inhabited 3,000 years ago. The village has up to 20 sets of carved stone pedestals, called latte, upon which the indigenous Chamorro people set buildings.

The Guam Historic Preservation Trust, one of the plaintiffs, leads hiking tours at Pagat. The suit says members ask permission to enter the sacred place before each visit.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, another party in the suit, has put Pagat on its 2010 list of the most endangered historic places in the U.S. It cited the live firing range as the reason for the listing.

Other Guam groups and individuals, including those of Chamorro ancestry, have joined the suit as plaintiffs.

The Navy in September said it had narrowed down locations for a range to two sites in Pagat, but it would postpone a final decision while it consulted preservation authorities on how the facility would affect the ancient village.

The Navy, in a document called a "Record of Decision," said the influx of population due to the military buildup would affect the island's indigenous Chamorro population, and vowed to be sensitive to the issue.

The military "is cognizant of the concerns regarding the degradation of Chamorro culture and respects Chamorro social and cultural traditions and will continue to strive to be good neighbors," the document said.

At its peak, the buildup is expected to boost Guam's population by 79,000 people, or 45 percent, over its current 180,000 residents.

Guam is about 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii and 1,500 miles south of Tokyo.