Navy details impact of Guam move
By Teri Weaver , Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Monday, November 23, 2009
TOKYO — It’s 8,600 Marines, not 8,000, moving to Guam.
That doesn’t count the estimated 9,000 sailors and Marines expected to visit the island for an average of two months each year.
And when construction, moving and hiring really get cranking in 2014 under the U.S. military’s plan to expand its bases in Guam, an estimated 80,000 people will temporarily flood the island, almost doubling the current population, according to a Navy report released Friday detailing the possible effects of the buildup.
The massive report comes more than three years after the United States and Japan agreed to move the III Marine Expeditionary Force.
The troop movement, from Okinawa to Guam, is part of a strategy to decrease troops in Japan and bolster the U.S.-controlled island in the Pacific.
While that agreement has come under scrutiny by a newly elected government in Japan, U.S. military officials say they are moving forward with the estimated $10.3 billion project.
Friday’s release of the environmental impact statement contains thousands of pages listing options about where the military wants to put the Marines, a new Army air defense unit and an expanded berth for visiting aircraft carriers within the island’s Apra Harbor port.
It also includes details about transforming existing training space on Tinian, an island in the Commonwealth of Northern Marina Islands. The expansion would support company- and battalion-level live-fire ranges.
Most of the report, though, deals with significant changes anticipated on Guam during and after the buildup. They include increased noise on the northern part of the island, traffic snarls during road construction, loss of habitat for threatened and endangered species, and significant changes to the coral reef ecosystem in Outer Apra Harbor, according to the report’s executive summary.
Overall, the buildup would bring about 34,000 new people to Guam permanently. About a quarter of the 1,800 new civilian Department of Defense jobs would be hired from island residents.
The military would expand and use much of Guam’s utility infrastructure for power, sewage and trash. Under one proposal, the Navy would drill 22 new wells on Andersen Air Force Base while connecting with the Guam Water Authority’s system, the report says.
When it comes to land use, the military would use much of its existing land at the northern tip of the island. Yet it’s clear, as military officials have said previously, that the current footprint is not enough for current plans, the report states.
Under a preferred option, the military would buy or lease private and public land near existing bases, including area now used as a racing track, reserved for development for new housing and existing homes, according to Sen. Judith Guthertz, who chairs Guam’s legislative committee that oversees the military expansion.
"Land is a very emotional issue here, especially because of our experiences during and after World War II," Guthertz said Saturday during a phone interview. Then, she said, "a lot was taken by the Navy and was not always under the best and fair terms for the indigenous people."
Now some of the land the Navy wants — including land reserved for development by the local Chamorro people — is controlled by Guam, which is a U.S. territory without a vote in Congress. A local law passed last year will require approval from Guam’s legislature before the military can buy or lease any locally controlled parcels.
But Guthertz said she and other local leaders anticipated those requests. Understanding what else might be in the massive report is the next step.
On Saturday, government officials in Guam were beginning to go through the details. Guthertz said her office spread the thousands of pages out in a room and assigned staff to study certain sections. Guam Gov. Felix Camacho parceled the report out to agency heads to comb through the technical language of the statement, which many call the EIS.
"We’ve only had it barely a day," said Shawn Gumataotao, deputy chief of staff for the governor. "All of our regulatory agencies will spend a lot of time with our people looking at the EIS. We’re also encouraging the public to do the same."
The Navy put the report out a day early, on Friday. An electronic version can be viewed online, and hard copies are available at local libraries and some mayors’ offices. A reading room was set up in the Agana Shopping Center in Hagatna.
Until Feb. 17, anyone can comment on the proposed options in the report, either online or by mail. The Navy will hold six public hearings on Guam, Saipan and Tinian from Jan. 7 to Jan. 15.