GIAA launches public relations blitz
'Project Airport Now' seeks to inform despite tensions with landowners
By Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
The island's airport is in the middle of a $95,000 public relations effort, including broadcast and print advertisements, brochures, and a press conference, to "elicit public support and participation" for airport issues, projects and activities that affect the community.
It's called "Project Airport Now," and the airport's board members approved its budget more than a year ago, according to the board's minutes.
The A.B. Won Pat Guam International Airport Authority has been distributing information about ongoing and planned capital improvement projects at Tiyan, and last week issued a report crediting the airport with contributing $1.7 billion to the island's economy last year.
It's no coincidence that the airport's message about its positive contribution to the island is being sent just as ground is being broken for the commercial development of former ancestral land at Tiyan -- land coveted by families who have been returned only a fraction of what was condemned by the federal government five decades ago.
"It's a proactive approach to tell the people of Guam, including the subsequent claimants of those (Tiyan) properties, that these are the ABC's and XYZ's of what we are doing right now," said airport Executive Director Jess Torres. "Development of the Tiyan Industrial Park is part and parcel to our development. It just happens to be on the first part of the old enlisted (housing) area."
The government of Guam's policy is to return, through the Ancestral Lands Commission, excess federal land to the families who owned it before it was condemned. In the case of the former military housing area at Tiyan, which is adjacent to the airport runway, only the strip of land between the road and cliffline was returned. Most of the land once owned by the families is on the other side of the street and was deeded by federal officials specifically to the airport for its use.
The airport erected a multimillion-dollar fence in June to separate its property, and last week Triple B Forwarders broke ground on a $2.5 million shipping facility on the land. The airport expects to collect $1.6 million in lease payments from Triple B over 10 years.
Torres said the airport's goal is to do, "What is best for our island. What is best for our people, instead of just a select few."
He said if the commercial projects envisioned at the Tiyan Industrial Park materialize, the children of the ancestral owners, "very likely would end up working for these companies."
"I'm against building more stuff. There's no jungle anymore. What's Guam without jungle?" said 27-year-old John Leon Guerrero, who lives with his cousin in one of the former military houses returned to its ancestral owners.
Asked what should happen to the fenced-in land across the street, Leon Guerrero said, "It should go back to the people who own it... Jobs are good, but where's Guam gonna go? It's gonna be one big industrial park."
Torres said, "We've taken a position that we don't have any excess lands to return to anybody." He said the former military property was not deeded to the government of Guam as a whole, but to the airport as a specific entity, and only for its use to benefit the public.
"I don't think it's fair. Why give partial (to the families), and claim the other side (of the road) to be theirs, when actually the whole lot belongs to my family," said 38-year-old Monica DeVera, who has lived in the former military housing along the cliffline for about 2 years.
Her family's ancestral lot is 91,000 square meters large -- most of it in the hands of the airport.
The approximate value of her family's entire ancestral property, including the majority portion held by the airport, is about $4.9 million, based on comparable property values in the area.
"Give it back to the landowners," she said about the land the airport has fenced in. "If not, then compensate them for it."
The airport stands to receive millions of dollars through the lease of the property, but Torres said the airport's bond agreements, as well as the deed to the property, prohibit the airport from using that money as compensation to the families.
"What more do they need to expand? For what?" DeVera asked. "It's not gonna benefit me. It's just going to cause more headaches."
The airport terminal itself has about three times more passenger capacity than Guam currently needs, but airport officials said the development of the industrial park is intended to diversify the airport, beyond serving passengers. The revenue that's generated from the property will help the airport make its bond payments and will pay for any needed increases in airport operations, they said.
"The benefit would be that Guam would continue to be in a position to grow the economy," said airport board Chairman Frank Blas. "If we don't have these warehouses, these people who are transporting cargo from one place to another -- they'll probably go to another airport."
Blas said if Guam were to isolate itself, then the airport probably wouldn't need any further development.
"But we can't help but be part of this growing global economy," he said. "If you don't do what the airlines require, you're going to be left behind."
Sen. Jesse Lujan, R-Tamuning, chairman of the legislative aviation committee, said he supports continued development of the airport-held property.
"If we can become a cargo hub ... that's a great thing," he said. "It creates jobs, they become taxpayers, and there's more economic activity."