Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Marine move to Guam may be Jeopardized

Lack of funding, room jeopardize Guam buildup
By Michael Hoffman - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Sep 30, 2007 9:30:13 EDT
Marine Corps Times

More than 60 years after leathernecks liberated Guam during World War II, plans for a second invasion of 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa, Japan, scheduled for 2014, are falling behind as uncertainties with funding the transfer and finding enough room on the tiny Pacific island risk dooming the project altogether.

Issues have arisen with getting Congress and the Japanese government to approve funding for the estimated $10.3 billion military buildup, which also includes constructing an Army ballistic missile defense station and a new Navy pier capable of berthing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, according to retired Marine Maj. Gen. David Bice, the director of the Joint Guam Program Office, and a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

The Japanese government has agreed to fund $6.1 billion of the $10.3 billion price tag for the Marine move, but Bice said he is still worried that the Guam project could be passed over for other priorities in the Middle East.

“We recognize that Congress and the [Defense Department] is always going to be challenged for funding,” he said. “Our program is going to have to be fully justified.”

His office missed a December 2006 deadline to submit a master plan for the buildup to the Senate Appropriations Committee, but Bice said his office isn’t planning to issue one until February 2009, so funding will be included in the fiscal 2010 military budget and construction can start by summer 2010.

While the transfer of Marines is still seven years off and the units that will be sent to Guam may still change, the units identified for relocation from Okinawa include the command element for III Marine Expeditionary Force; the headquarters for 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Logistics Group and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing; and 12th Marines, according to the GAO report.

By all accounts there is a lot of work ahead to upgrade Guam’s infrastructure and construct enough houses and military buildings to prepare for the 39,310 service members and dependents that will make up the buildup.

“There will be impacts on the infrastructure and we are working to respond to that growth,” said Shawn Gumataotao, spokesman for Guam Gov. Felix Camacho.

The GAO report described the two major roads in Guam as in “poor condition” and pointed out that the lack of roadways forces the Air Force to transport ordnance through highly populated areas to its depots.

The electric grid is also unreliable and the utility transmission lines are antiquated, according to the report. The solid-waste landfills are near capacity and the “waste-water treatment facilities have a long history of failing” and are also near capacity, the GAO reported.

Construction has been going on for the last couple years on Guam to update these faults, Gumataotao said. About $500 million has already been invested for projects to shore up roads, install power lines underground, and improve the handling of wastewater, he said.

Questions also surround how all the new Marines will be housed and how a high quality of life will be maintained on the remote island. Bice said the Japanese government plans to build 3,250 homes on base, and the governor’s office confirmed that housing developers on the island are working to build more off-base housing.

While the island can be a lonely place for service members, Bice is confident that the efforts made by his office and Guam officials will make it an attractive station.

“It’s going to be the new Oahu because it’s going to be a place people want to go,” he said.

The lack of infrastructure is fixable, but no study or congressional funding bill will create more space on the island, which is roughly the size of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Defense Department owns 40,000 acres of land on Guam, equal to 29 percent of the island, where 14,195 service members work, according to the Guam Integrated Military Development Plan.

DoD officials originally promised they could accomplish the buildup without obtaining more land, but Bice said his staff has reviewed the possibility of purchasing real estate from private landowners who have come forward and offered to sell.

But “there are political sensitivities to using former DoD land areas, since local community officials in Guam are concerned with the community’s reaction to DoD’s possible expansion of land holdings on the island,” the GAO reported.

While there is a minority on the island that is opposed to the buildup, Gumataotao said 70 percent of Guam residents polled do support it and are excited about the economic development it could provide.

Military planners might not be as excited when it comes to ensuring Marines meet training requirements.

“Training is going to be an issue on Guam,” said Bice, who once commanded 3rd Marine Division. Instead of staying on the island, Marines will have to travel to islands about 90 miles away to complete training exercises, Bice said.

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