Good News for Guam
Judge Dismisses Motion in Pagat Lawsuit
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | June 21, 2011
This week preservationists are celebrating a small victory in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense.
In November of 2010, the National Trust, We are Guahan, and the Guam Preservation Trust filed suit to stop the military from building at least five firing ranges in Pågat Village, an ancient cultural site on the island of Guam. Last Friday, Hawaii District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi denied a Department of Defense motion for a "voluntary remand and stay" of the lawsuit.
"It's the first engagement in the battle, and we won," says attorney Nicholas Yost of San Francisco-based SNR Denton, representing the plaintiffs. It's too early to tell if ongoing efforts to protect the sacred site can prevent the government from building the firing ranges nearby. Having lost round one, the Department of Defense is threatening to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit entirely. Yost says outright dismissal is unlikely.
"We are confident that, should they file such a motion [to dismiss], that we would prevail on it because the government's records show very clearly that they plan to place the firing ranges in one of two places at Pågat," Yost says.
The Trust, along with the other plaintiffs, are asking the Department of Defense to work with the people of Guam to consider other, more appropriate sites for firing ranges.
"The Judge rightly recognized the importance of the public's right to participate in the planning process, especially considering that the Navy has already decided to take land at Pågat, currently held in public trust, and use it for weapons training," says Brian Turner, attorney in the National Trust's Western Office.
Yost says that the government had proposed a process that "could result in moving the site of the firing ranges to someplace other than Pågat, but they declined our request to build public participation by the people of Guam into that process." He and other attorneys had been concerned the government might try to "remedy deficiencies in the current administrative record" by providing contradictory studies. "The judge didn't allow them to get away with doing that, and we are pleased."
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