Saturday, November 21, 2009

Officials raise concerns on EIS

Officials raise concerns on EIS

By Bernice Santiago • Pacific Sunday News • November 22, 2009

Access to land, strains on infrastructure, the timely transfer of funds for improvements, and the military's commitment to use local port and utility facilities were among the concerns raised by government officials after the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The draft EIS, released Friday, lays out proposed plans for military construction associated with the transfer of 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam, along with the environmental and social impact of those changes. The community has until Feb. 18 to submit comments on the EIS report.

All public comments will be weighed and considered, retired Marine Col. John J. Jackson, director of the Joint Guam Program Office, said during a press conference yesterday.

Sen. Judith Guthertz, chairwoman for the legislative committee on the military buildup, said that she's preparing a joint report assessing the draft EIS with the committee on rules, natural resources, and federal, foreign, and Micronesian affairs.
"It's a lot bigger in terms of its impact than most people thought it would be," Guthertz said yesterday, "particularly with the population increase estimates and the proposed footprint for land."

Guthertz is preparing an inventory of non-federal land that the military is proposing to acquire as part of the buildup, she said. "I'm very concerned about the land, and I think probably that's going to be the most sensitive part of the draft EIS," she said.

Gov. Felix Camacho said yesterday that four sites in Dededo, Yigo, Mangilao, and Agat would be affected, according to the proposals in the draft EIS, and that he will be working with the village mayors on public access issues in their villages.
The construction of a permanent Marine Corps base in Dededo could possibly include the long-term lease of private land in the Harmon Annex. The military hopes to build a new firing range in Mangilao and Yigo, as large as 1,680 acres, which would require the use of more than 900 acres of non-military land. In the south, a large portion of land between Agat and Umatac has been proposed as a "maneuver training area," including jungle training, land navigation and air-to-ground operations, for the Marines stationed in Dededo.

Camacho stressed that island residents should read the main volumes and appendices of the draft EIS, in order to submit their comments and help shape the final outcome the military buildup. "The entire community needs to be involved," Camacho said.

Sen. Eddie Calvo expressed concern with the impact of the military buildup on the island's infrastructure. The island's roads, power, water, wastewater, and solid waste systems, which are already strained, will be affected by the population increase. The systems need improvements to cope with the increase, but Calvo said that there have been several stumbling blocks during the process.

Almost $50 million in federal funds has been appropriated for road construction scheduled to begin next year, which isn't nearly enough, Calvo said. In addition, though the EIS states that the military will use the Layon landfill, a formal memorandum of understanding for the future use of the Layon landfill still hasn't been signed, Calvo said.

Major upgrades to the commercial port and the airport were planned because of the expectation of cargo for the buildup entering Guam through those facilities, Calvo said. Calvo is concerned that the military will not use the commercial port for cargo shipments, citing the August shipment of Watts Constructors' cargo from the Guam Shipyard.

"The win-win situation that we're talking about may not be a win for Guam," Calvo said. "It may be a win-win for the government of the United States and the government of Japan."

Calvo is running as a gubernatorial candidate in next year's election.
On Monday, acting Speaker Rory Respicio will be asking each legislative committee to hold joint public hearings with the military buildup committee, to give the public more opportunities to comment on the EIS.

"Every single component of the EIS impacts us one way or another," Respicio said. Residents should be concerned with possibility that power or water rates will go up, that the federal government may or may not move to augment health services, and what the impact to the island's environmental resources will be, he said.

"This military buildup will change the face of Guam," Respicio said.

At the Joint Guam Program Office press conference yesterday, Jackson said the public comments, especially legitimate concerns, do carry a lot of weight in the final decision-making process.

He gave the example of how comments during the public scoping period earlier this year led to the military scrapping its plan to build a firing range in the Finegayan area of Dededo and instead build it along the coast of Mangilao and Yigo.
The original plan would have created a danger zone extending over popular fishing and recreational areas.

"Nothing will be set in stone until the record of decision comes out," Jackson said. "Even when you look at that and we have our plans all in place, things can still change at that point because we may discover something else that wasn't identified in the public comment period or in our surveys."

According to a timeline in the draft EIS, the final statement is scheduled to be available by June 30.

After a 30-day waiting period -- July 6 to Aug. 6, 2010 -- the Record of Decision is scheduled to be issued by July 30, 2010. This allows buildup-related construction to begin.

But those dates are still tentative.

"This is a very long and drawn out process because we really want to get it right. And we want to get it right not only so that the requirements are met for the military, but for the government of Guam and the people of Guam," Jackson said. "We have one chance to get it right."

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