Thursday, August 16, 2007

Military Buildup Brings Tensions to Guam

U.S. military buildup brings tensions on Guam
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted at 12:20 p.m., Thursday, August 16, 2007
Associated Press

HAGATNA, Guam — Guam territorial Sen. Tina Muna Barnes said Thursday she hopes the federal government will treat Guam as a partner rather than a subordinate as it carries out a massive military buildup on the Pacific Island.

"We need to sit at the table as equals and talk about it," the Democrat said at a congressional panel meeting held to discuss the military buildup. Muna Barnes' husband and oldest son serve in the U.S. military.

The Defense Department and the Japanese government plan to spend more than $10 billion moving some 8,000 Marines to Guam from Okinawa. Other projects will expand the U.S. Air Force presence on the U.S. island territory.

The buildup is expected to boost Guam's population of some 160,000 by 20 percent or more as the Marines and their families move in and construction workers arrive to build new facilities. It's also expected to help the economy.

But Muna Barnes says some residents are unhappy with what they say are unilateral decisions by the military.

For example, the Navy recently said it would double the price it charged the local water agency for water from a military-held Fena water treatment plant.

The price hike, expected in about two months, would equal a 6 percent increase in what Guam Waterworks' Authority customers pay for water, said Simon Sanchez, chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities.

"This increase in water cost, this unilateral action ... jeopardizes local support," Muna Barnes said. It "makes our local people very angry," she added.

Sen. Eddie Calvo, the Guam Legislature's vice speaker and Finance Committee chairman, said the federal government should provide Guam with enough money to host the military buildup. He said Washington shouldn't expect the island to use "nonexistent" local funds.

U.S. Congressional Delegates Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Madeleine Bordallo of Guam and Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa heard the comments. They were recorded as part of the Congressional Record.

"Guam is now at a very, very critical point," Faleomavaega said.

The local community's voices will help shape what the military's actions will be, said Christensen, chairwoman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs.

A retired Marine, John Gerber, said the military buildup has the support of "the silent majority of our people on Guam." He cited opinion surveys done by groups like the Guam Chamber of Commerce.

He noted that Marines built Marine Corps Drive and more than 300 miles of Guam roads after World War II.

"When I heard about the Marines returning to Guam, I was very happy. It's a windfall," he said.

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