The attorney publicly representing Core Tech International said Guam Waterworks Authority is doing to its client what it has done to hundreds of other landowners: stealing their land.
Attorney Peter R. Sgro, in an interview with Kandit Monday about the ongoing litigation between CTI and GWA over disputed Ukudu land, broke his client’s silence in the public arena more than three years after GovGuam and GWA sued CTI over ownership of the land, where the Northern District Wastewater Treatment Plant sits.
“What’s prompting this response is the consistent habitual pattern of misrepresentation and lies by GWA management as well as certain members of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities,” Mr. Sgro said.
The government waged the lawsuit in order to get the Superior Court of Guam to change a certificate of title indicating CTI’s ownership of Lot 10184-7, which is where GWA operates the NDWWTP, in favor of GWA. Every document recorded at the Guam Department of Land Management in relation to the property shows CTI legally purchased the property in May 2015.
“There is absolutely no shred of evidence that either GovGuam or GWA owns this land,” Mr. Sgro said. “Thus far in this case their positions have been frivolous and filled with an inaccurate set of facts that is not only based on my opinion, but by the judge herself that punished GWA and Land Management with presenting frivolous positions with the court.”
The reference is to a July 2021 admonishment of GWA from Judge Elyze Iriarte that the public utility agency had shirked its duty of candor to the court and wasted both the court and the defendant’s time with baseless matters. The judge ordered GWA to pay CTI’s legal fees related to those issues.
The bigger issues, however, revolve around the public relations distortion and ‘bait and switch’ PR strategy GWA is using to hide its own sins, and the consequences of GWA continuing to fight this issue (which they started) in court, according to Sgro.
“They need to stop trying to solve this legal matter in the media,” Mr. Sgro said, “and should instead focus on what is going to prove to be the most historic land case in the history of our island.”
According to the attorney, who has extensive legal experience defending landowners against government encroachments and issues of just compensation arising from eminent domain, CTI is not GWA’s first victim of encroachment and blatant stealing of land. And, if CTI does not stop GWA now, the logic, goes, GWA will continue victimizing others.
“There have been utility easements that have transgressed on private properties where people have not been compensated,” Mr. Sgro said. “And I feel there is a real concern at GWA that when we win this case, not if we when this case, there will be hundreds of landowners on Guam that will be seeking their just compensation for the takings of their lands.”
“GWA is very concerned,” he continued. “They know that Core Tech is essentially fighting for the land rights of hundreds of property owners on Guam.”
The issue of other landowners who have lost their property as a result of government overreach has been a topic of Kandit’s investigative reporting several times. GWA, however, never responds to our requests for comment. The public utility agency has instead used ratepayer funds to hire a public relations firm to wage its battle in the court of public opinion.
“GWA must stop its marketing agency from creating stories that are not factually based,” Mr. Sgro said. “They want the people of Guam to believe that because of Core Tech, a substantial burden will result to the ratepayers of Guam. The truth is that the substantial burden was never initiated by Core Tech, but was directly related to actions, inactions, and mismanagement by GWA themselves.”
The conundrum GWA faces is extensive and comprehensive. The agency is responsible on two fronts for the improvement and expansion of the NDWWTP. The first front is its compliance with federal environmental statutes it repeatedly violated from its mismanagement of the island’s sewage system. The ratepayers will be repaying billions in principal and interest on bonds GWA has floated (authorized by the CCU) to fix its mismanagement. The second front is in some ways related to the first: the military buildup is relying on GWA to improve and expand the NDWWTP. The project is so critical to the buildup, it is the only civilian infrastructure project the government of Japan agreed to fund in the buildup. In fact, GWA received these funds following its grant application for the money to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment.
The public utility agency lied on both fronts.
“They attempt to mislead ratepayers and our entire community by an obvious effort on their part that they are directly responsible for years of mismanagement including the handling of this case,” Mr. Sgro said. “I am sure they must be concerned that they have opened a Pandora’s box of legitimate issues that eventually be public in an effort to cover up their own history of mistakes and mismanagement. My client has done absolutely nothing wrong. Instead of just being honest with the people of Guam about their numerous negligent actions and inactions, they really believe they can fool the people and the court to hide their own wrong doings.”
“GWA’s attempts to now cover its own mismanagement is unfortunately being done so by a series of misrepresentations being told to our community,” he continued. “Who should be responsible for rates if they go up? The management of GWA and every member of the CCU. I feel it becomes necessary for a community to no longer be left with financial burdens because of serious mistakes that our people and my client had nothing to do with. There is no dispute whatsoever that every single mistake in this case, every single attempt to hide the truth, and even the alterations of survey maps were based on actions by the government, not Core Tech. Core Tech did not file this lawsuit. GWA did.”
A November 30, 2021 decision and order by Judge Iriarte in the case created what some court observers are saying is a legal trajectory. The judge in that ruling not only confirmed CTI’s ownership interest in the property, but questioned whether GWA had any right at all to be on the land. The decision and order is not sitting well with GWA, which is attempting to resolve issues now with the appellate court, the Guam Supreme Court, before the case is litigated to finality in front of Judge Iriarte. The result, if the case continues through trial and GWA loses, could be enormous for GWA.
“If GWA truly wants in good faith to address issues of potential damages, they gave a legal obligation to take any and all steps legally necessary to mitigate damages to the people of Guam,” Mr. Sgro said. “That is their burden. That is not Core Tech’s burden. My client, when he’s successful, will be inspiring all those other landowners whose land GWA just took, to do something about it.”