Angaur State Government, one of the sixteen (16) states of Palau, represented by its Governor Steven Salii, filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Palau government, the United States government, United States contractors, and the Palau Environmental Quality Protection Board (EQPB) for the alleged violations of Palau environmental laws and the Compact of Free Association agreements over the US Tactical Mobile Over-the-Horizon Radar (TACMOR) Project in Angaur.
The lawsuit claims that the Palau national government, the United States government, the companies hired to clear the site for TACMOR Project, Cape Environmental and Pacific Unlimited, along with Palau Environmental Quality Protection Board, allowed for the clearing of some 271,807 square meters of land in Angaur without conducting the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) and getting required permits before commencing site clearing and earthmoving activities.
Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States have certain rights to “exclusive use area” for (General Military Use and Operating Rights Within Defense Sites), but the lawsuit said such use is subject to limitations such as “Avoid interference with commercial activities in Palau, avoid interference with access by fishermen to shoreline areas, avoid activities which would adversely affect the well-being of the residents of Palau …minimize damage to the environment, and avoid reasonable harm to the environment including waters areas.” The ongoing clearing project violates the cited “limitations,” the lawsuit states.
Furthermore, the suit claims that the well-being of the residents of Angaur is adversely affected by the ongoing land clearing, which is “interfering with the access and travels of the residents of Angaur …, erosions damaging their reef areas and waters because of inadequate mitigation measures in places” and damages to historical sites located within the TACMOR site.
The suit also claims that 1,869 tons of lead-contaminated soil and 125 drums containing 92 tons of bitumen located at the TACMOR Site are exposing the residents of Angaur and the environment to harmful poisons.
“The people here usually come here (TACMOR site) to collect land crabs or fish around the reefs here, but now they can’t,” expressed former Angaur governor Marvin Ngirutang during a visit to the site over a week ago.
The lawsuit seeks immediate Temporary Restraining Order, stopping the land clearing, saying that “irreparable damage” to the environment and residents of Angaur will result if the project continues.
“The hardships now being faced by the Residents of Angaur because of the TACMOR Project greatly outweighs any hardship that the United States, Palau, EQPB, CAPE Environmental and Pacific Unlimited may face if the requested injunctive reliefs by the Plaintiff herein are granted,” states the suit.
Angaur State, the plaintiff in this case, asks the court to declare that Palau, United States, EQPB, and CAPE Environmental, or Pacific Unlimited, violated environmental laws and regulations, warranting fines of $10,000 per day for all the days they conducted clearing without a lawful permit from EQPB. It also asks that the court declares that an EIS is required for any land-clearing work on the TACMOR Site. It also seeks compensatory and punitive damages against CAPE Environmental and Pacific Unlimited.
The TACMOR project site lies adjacent to the Angaur airstrip on private lands owned by Ochedaruchei Clan and Children of Orrenges Thomas in the hamlet of Ngermasech, Angaur. Not all citizens of Angaur agree with the lawsuit.
Last week, the traditional chiefs of the Ngermasech hamlet, the Ngaraeriud, signed a resolution opposing the lawsuit, saying that it is being filed without the knowledge of the people of Angaur.
“Ngaraeriud have obtained information that a lawsuit is to be filed on behalf of Angaur State against the United States Military and its sub-contractors without a public hearing, consent of Angaur Traditional Chiefs, or even a town hall meeting by the Governor to inform every citizen of Angaur of the reasons of the adversarial legal actions against anyone, in order for the Angaur people to understand the content of the lawsuit and its benefits and disadvantages to all people of Angaur State,” the resolution states.
The resolution asserts the US military project improves Angaur’s economy and provides jobs and opportunities for the people of Angaur.
The landowners of the radar project site entered into a lease agreement with the Palau government. Per the request of the United States Government, the Palau government, under the Compact of Free Association, provides lands for its use.