Building the Future, Respecting the Culture, Preserving the Past

28 Oct 2020 | Cpl. Andrew King The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

The island of Guam has a rich cultural history, beginning with the early period of habitation by pre-contact Chamoru society to the present-day ethnically-diverse community that has grown into one of the most important economic hubs in the Western Pacific. Since the establishment of Marine Barracks Guam in 1899 and the liberation of the island during WWII, the U.S. Marine Corps is proud to be a part of Guam’s unique story and seeks to honor the island’s past, present and its future. As the Marine Corps continues to make progress with the building of Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, Guam, numerous steps are taken to respectfully manage cultural and historical sites and artifacts encountered, and to care for them in line with modern preservation law and accepted practices.

“As good stewards of the land, we have a responsibility to properly manage resources that enrich our lives and increase our collective appreciation of the world around us,” said Ronnie Rogers, the MCB Camp Blaz cultural resource program manager. “Our cultural resource program is just one discipline under Camp Blaz’ robust environmental management program. The number of archaeological staff and the high levels of investment in preservation speaks to the Marine Corps being a good neighbor. Archaeological sites are only a partial window to our past, so Camp Blaz protects or records these physical reminders of Guam’s history as best as we can so that we can continue to make the information available to the public.”

As part of the Camp Blaz cultural resource program responsibilities, great care is afforded to reduce the overall impacts to buildings or places of cultural or historical importance. As a result of the public participation process required under law, community feedback has been and continues to be considered to avoid, minimize or offset impacts.

The process for public consultation efforts as well as steps to manage impacts to cultural resources is detailed in the 2011 Programmatic Agreement for the Marine Corps relocation on Guam. The PA was completed after four years of extensive discussions among federal and state agencies, special interest groups and the public. The feedback received from stakeholders positively influenced the quality of the military’s commitments to the preservation process and mitigations that are appropriate for Guam’s resources.

Some of the unique efforts under the 2011 PA are the Public Access Program which provides opportunities for the public to visit historic sites and for traditional healers to access medicinal plants. These efforts also support the $12M funding for construction of the estimated 13,000 square foot Guam Cultural Repository, which will store the island’s civilian and military artifact collections. Additional efforts established in the 2011 PA include producing educational booklets based on information obtained from archaeological investigations, nominating at least two sites on DoD lands to the National Register of Historic Properties as required by federal law and providing cultural resource awareness training to all the contractors working on the base build-up.

“We are confident that we continue to do the right thing for the island’s cultural heritage and we are grateful for the valuable input and guidance we receive from the community.” Ronnie Rogers, MCB Camp Blaz cultural resource program manager

Cultural resource training includes a one hour cultural resource brief given when hired to teach the contractors what the artifacts look like and where they may be located. This in-depth training is required to be retaken annually to maintain proficiency. Additionally, all contractors receive follow on training when they arrive to their job site for specific instructions on different artifacts and where they have been found at that location. The effectiveness of the training has been demonstrated by multiple instances of construction personnel recognizing artifacts that eventually led to reporting to the Guam State Historic Preservation Office of the potential cultural sites.

Before any construction can even begin, archeological surveys are conducted to shape and inform the planning process for where the project will ultimately be located. This affords the greatest opportunities for avoidance of cultural resources. In addition, within construction sites deemed of great concern by the SHPO, trained archeologists are on site the entire time to supervise and halt construction in the event an artifact is found that could indicate a potential archaeological site.

“If a contractor finds something they believe is an artifact they notify our environmental manager who then notifies our on-site archaeologist,” said Aaron Snyder, the Program Manager for one of the MCB Camp Blaz construction projects. “They come over and inspect it and if it is warranted they collect it and notify the Camp Blaz cultural resource team. We immediately halt work in the area and pull everyone out and wait for the cultural resources team who usually gets back to us within a day to tell us if they will be doing anything in the area or just recovering the isolated item. If Camp Blaz is going to do additional investigations of that specific area we fence it off for protection and pause there until we receive further direction.”

If the discovery is a single artifact that is found in previous disturbance, then it will be documented, photographed and recorded with a GPS location. If it is a potential site then the process becomes more complex as the archeologist must establish the boundary of the site and investigate any important archaeological features. This process begins by conducting a surface inspection and typically includes digging shovel test pits in a pattern across the site to determine the presence and the extent of undisturbed subsurface deposits. The archaeologist must then make a determination of eligibility, which includes investigating whether a site meets one or more of four published criteria: is the site associated with an important event, important individual, important for architecture or is important for the research information it can provide, or has provided, about history?

In addition to the four criteria of eligibility there are also considerations about integrity of the site to be taken into account when reviewing sites. If the site does not meet any of the criteria of eligibility or has no integrity (heavily disturbed/destroyed), then it is considered ineligible for listing in the NRHP and no further consideration is afforded to the site. If the site is eligible, then the effects of a proposed project on the site must be considered with appropriate management efforts in place.

Through the release of publicly-available semi-annual reports, public service announcements for project consultation, and distribution of public outreach material describing the cultural resources management practices, the Marine Corps has shown its commitment to maintaining transparency with the public and working towards mutually-agreeable outcomes with all stakeholders to ensure a responsible approach to construction.

“We have frequent and open lines of communication with the Guam SHPO,” said Rogers. “We respond to questions and comments from village representatives, elected officials, agency personnel, non-profit organizations and the broader public. We consider all relevant comments and where possible, we incorporate those comments into our actions to ensure we achieve the right balance while still maintaining the national defense mission. We are confident that we continue to do the right thing for the island’s cultural heritage and we are grateful for the valuable input and guidance we receive from the community.”