Sunday, January 28, 2007

Despite Environmental Protests, Air Force to Proceed

Air Force to proceed with strike force plan
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Variety News Staff

DESPITE the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's dissatisfaction with the U.S. Air Force's preliminary environmental impact study, or EIS, the Pentagon has decided to proceed with its plan to base permanent tankers on Guam to support the Air Strike mission at Andersen Air Force Base.

The Air Force says it will implement its existing environmental protection measures for Andersen and just reevaluate them in the future as the mission goes along.
In the Record of Decision dated Jan. 12, Air Force Deputy Assistant Fred W. Kuhn said "the decision takes into account the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts from the alternative."

"The Air Force, when balancing the essential considerations of national policy, the selection standards and other matters, chose Andersen AFB and did not carry the other six installations considered forward for detailed analysis in the EIS," Kuhn said.

The Air Force has identified Andersen Air Force Base as the site best suited to host the air strike force compared to Iwo Jima, Japan, Saipan, Diego Garcia, Wake Island and Hawaii, which were initially considered as alternative locations for the mission.

"From Guam, combat aircraft are within easy striking range of the region's likely potential hot spots, yet far enough from an adversary's missile launch sites to limit the likely effects of such strikes," stated the Record of Decision, which contains the final EIS.

Last year, the USEPA urged the Air Force to conduct a more substantial environmental analysis and address other "reasonable and foreseeable" issues before proceeding with its plan to build up an Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance and Strike, or Strike Force, at Andersen.

The Air Force published its draft preliminary EIS before the Pentagon's release of the Guam Integrated Military Development Plan in July 2006.

"The Air Force recognizes that future actions are planned for Guam," Kuhn said. "However, the Air Force cannot reasonably speculate on preliminary proposals that are still under development and that are not presently capable of meaningful analysis."

He said details contained in the Guam Integrated Military Development Plan are "currently undefined, speculative and not conducive to an informative environmental analysis."

The Air Force says additional planning to modify the EIS will take two more years to complete. Kuhn said the Air Force is not inclined to wait that long, noting the unavailability of information needed to assess the cumulative impacts on Guam environment.

"The Air Force does not consider the unavailable information regarding potential relocation of Marines to Guam to be relevant to any significant environmental impacts or essential to any reasoned choice among alternatives for ISR/Strike bed down and operations," Kuhn said.

"Furthermore," he added, "even if such information were relevant to significant adverse impacts or essential to a choice among alternatives, the Air Force considers the cost of a two-year delay to obtain that information for this EIS to be exorbitant and inconsistent with the Air Force's responsibilities to the Department of Defense mission."

Kuhn, however, said the Air Force will put in place several conservation measures and mitigations to protect Guam's natural resources and habitat for endangered local species, including the Mariana fruit bats, kingfishers and crows. The Air Force also says it will strictly implement a solid waste management system on base.
These measures, Kuhn said, "could be reexamined and reevaluated in any future environmental impact analysis for potential future federal actions on Guam."

The Pentagon is planning to deploy 12 KC-135 tanker aircraft and four Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles and personnel to Andersen Air Force Base on a permanent basis. As many as 40 fighter planes such as the F-22 and the F-15E and six bomber aircraft will be rotated from bases in the 50 states. The mission will be deployed in four phases over a period of 16 years.

Air Force officials expect the Andersen population to increase by 3,000.
The ISR/Strike's mission, according to the Pentagon, is "to achieve pre-engagement battle space awareness, locate and identify critical adversary movement, achieve assured success through air dominance, and deliver decisive effects via persistent and precise application of air and space power."

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