Monday, 27 October 2008 00:00 By Gemma Q. Casas - Variety News Staff
The Pentagon official in-charge of the office overseeing technical preparations for the relocation of about 12,849 U.S. Marines from Okinawa, Japan to Guam beginning 2012 met with local officials last week and expressed confidence that the final master plan for the CNMI’s role in the buildup project will soon be released.
Speaker Arnold I. Palacios, R-Saipan, said Maj. Gen. David F. Bice, the executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office, met with local lawmakers on Friday.
“The main purpose of the meeting was to give us an update on the master plan,” Palacios told the Variety in a phone interview.
Created in 2006 under the Department of Navy, JGPO is tasked to plan and execute the military buildup project on Guam that involves relocating the Marines from Japan to the territory.
The Northern Marianas, a 14-island chain U.S. commonwealth, is envisioned to provide much needed training areas for the relocated troops and allied forces of the U.S.
The relocation plan will cost Japan and the U.S. up to $15 billion once it is completed in 2014.
JGPO is the lead agency involved in the planning, integration of operational support, program and budget synchronization, construction oversight, as well as coordinating with the private sector and relevant governments in the relocation project believed to be the biggest since the Vietnam War.
Bice is a Vietnam War veteran.
He retired in 2002 but returned to active duty two years later in support of the Global War on Terrorism, serving as the inspector general of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Palacios said the visiting military official informed the Legislature that the master plan for the CNMI has been revised six times and is expected to be released before the year is over.
“They are still working on it. They are now on its sixth revised version,” he said. “We were told that if we have any further questions, we should direct it to Capt. Neil Ruggiero [JGPO’s public affairs officer].”
Palacios said the projected number of troops to be relocated still stands at over 12,000 as of this month.
Last May, the Legislature received a draft environmental impact statement report on the Guam & CNMI Military Relocation Project.
The draft report dated April 2008 showed that 12,849 Marines are to be relocated from different bases in Okinawa, Japan to Guam with their 10,350 dependents.
The project also involves the construction of berthing for visiting aircraft carriers and the establishment of a U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Defense Task Force on Guam.
The ballistic missile task force on Guam is an essential security measure in the wake of findings that about 90 foreign ballistic missiles were launched every year since 2002.