Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Opinions vary on military buildup

Opinions vary on military buildup

By Amritha Alladi • Pacific Daily News • November 24, 2009

As details of the proposed military buildup emerge, Guam residents continue to be at odds about whether it will bring more benefits than harm to the island.

Some of the island's residents shared some of their concerns and expectations yesterday as the draft Environmental Impact Statement, released by the Defense Department on Friday, outlines how the military expansions might mean to the host community.

Some residents living near the proposed site for the Marine base and housing complex in Dededo said the plentiful job opportunities will boost the island's economy and thus, reduce crime; others said they fear traffic congestion and crime will increase.

According to Dededo Mayor Melissa Savares, only one person had visited her office to look at the document as of yesterday morning.

The draft EIS indicates that 33,000 new jobs will be created by 2014, and the island will generate $325 million in revenue that year alone.

However, Dededo resident Marina Camacho, 59, said the island's economy has managed to stay afloat until now and it isn't in need of a military buildup to save it from sinking.

"We can still survive," she said.

Her nephew, 48-year-old John Babauta, said he is worried that the increased military activity on Guam will make the island a potential target for foreign attacks.

Neither Camacho nor Babauta has seen the EIS or has plans to do so.

Babauta said he feels the EIS is just for show. If the Department of Defense really valued residents' comments, they would have taken residents' concerns into account about five years ago, he said. The EIS process does give Guam residents 90 days to comment before the buildup plans are finalized.

"They own Guam," Babauta said of the military. "It's already a done deal."

A major component of the buildup is the proposal to move more than 8,000 Marines and 9,000 of their dependents from Okinawa to Guam.

"The problems that Okinawa sees, the same thing will happen here," he added. Babauta said the local government should learn from the Japanese leadership's desire to remove the American military presence from Okinawa altogether.

The Agence France Presse reported last week that members of the Japanese coalition, including newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, are suggesting the possibility of moving the entire Futenma base off of Okinawa altogether. Guam and Iwo To -- the former Iwo Jima -- have been suggested by Japanese officials as possible locations to shift the remaining American troops.

"The base, unpopular because of aircraft noise and the risk of accidents, is due to be moved from an urban to a coastal area by 2014 -- but Hatoyama has said the base may have to be moved off Okinawa or even out of Japan," according to the AFP report. "Okinawans have long complained about the burden of hosting more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops based in the country, and residents have been angered especially by crimes committed by American servicemen in the past."

Yet Simon Sanchez, chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities, said the idea that more U.S. troops will be moved from Japan to Guam -- in addition to the current 8,000 Marines who are being relocated under the current plan -- is only speculative. During his discussions with Joint Guam Program Office officials, there has been no mention of such additional relocation, and the draft EIS further confirms only a partial relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, he said.

But Marilyn Tablante, a staff employee at the Dededo Mayor's Office, said she wouldn't mind an increased military presence on the island.

She added that those residents who have not looked into the EIS yet should take the time to do so because it provides a clear picture of how Guam will change as a result of the buildup.

"Tell them to read all of this," she said pointing to the binders filled with the 8,000 pages of the EIS. "They might change their mind."

If more people are employed by jobs created by the buildup, crime would actually decrease on the island, she said.

"The crime rate will go down because they will have a job," she said.

Keekah Mendiola, an employee at the R.S. Taitano convenient store in Dededo, said she, too, felt the positive impact of the buildup will far outweigh its negative effects.

"Look at how many people are losing their jobs," she said. Those people who are currently using federal welfare assistance may not have to do so anymore, she said.

Additionally, 28-year-old Rolly Nicolas, also a Dededo resident, said the shift of more U.S. troops to Guam would actually give the island more protection.

No comments: