Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A tale of three cities

A tale of three cities

Thursday, 19 November 2009 04:07
by Mar-Vic Cagurangan | Variety News Staff

First of a two-part series

IT is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Such juxtaposition commonly characterizes Guam, El Paso and Olongapo City, which all have faced the challenges to beat the bane and reap the boon of military presence in their communities.

Dealing with the requirements and impact of the corresponding population surge that comes with military expansion requires flexibility. But, obviously, the situation calls for more than the right attitude toward major transformation because it also brings with it confusion and uncertainties.

“The impending military buildup has excited many inside and outside our community, but many also fear the impacts this buildup will have on our social, cultural and environmental resources,” said Frank Campillo, outgoing chairman of the Guam Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

“I am not one who dismisses the fears but I also believe that the future opportunities outweigh the potential adversities,” he added.

Guam is tasked by the United States to accommodate 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa under the still uncertain $15 billion armed forces relocation agreement with Japan. With no firm commitment from the federal government that the cost of building infrastructures will be federally subsidized, Guam is left scrambling for resources to meet the demands of the population explosion.

*Early planning*

El Paso stands apart from Guam in the aspect of preparation, which promptly commenced when the Pentagon started planning the Bases Realignment and Closure process. “We did some impact economic study ahead of time. We believe the revenue growth from sales and property tax revenues will be enough to pay for physical infrastructure improvements,” according to Bob Cook, CEO and president of El Paso Regional Economic Development Corp.

As far as federal aid is concerned, Cook said, El Paso has nothing to complain about. “We’re getting great deal of federal assistance; we’re maybe getting 20 to 25 cents on the dollar that is required to meet at the military buildup,” he said.

El Paso, a county in Texas with a population of 736,000, hosts Fort Bliss, home to a U.S. Army post. With the transfer of 20,000 soldiers from different military installations across the U.S., El Paso’s population is projected to increase by 54,000. The armed personnel buildup is about 75 percent complete. Full relocation completion is scheduled between 2012 and 2013.

Adequate infrastructure

“We’re actually doing quite good on the physical infrastructure,” Cook said. “Essentially, our study indicated that we have had the capacity in most infrastructure items like water sewer, electricity and natural gas. We can handle the growth fairly easily.”

The county recently adopted a $1.5 billion transportation improvement plan. “About 25 percent of this transportation investment is related to the buildup,” Cook said.

The weight of the military expansion is mostly felt in the healthcare sector. But this area is also being taken care of, according to Cook. El Paso has stepped up its recruitment of medical and health professionals by adopting a program to offer debt payment incentives medical students.

“If we do nothing for the next four years, we would have a shortage in health personnel of about 4,000,” Cook said. “So were taking steps right now to make sure that we don’t have large gap four years from now.”

Generally, El Paso’s local community is “responding very well to the military buildup,’ Cook said.

Bases closure

Olongapo City is a different story. Located in the province of Zambales, Philippines, the city’s economy was once largely tied to the Navy’s presence in Subic Bay. The Subic area tarted as Spain’s arsenal and ship-repair facility in 1885. Following the Spanish-American war, Subic Bay became a U.S. Navy and Marine base, and grew to become a major military installation until it was shut down in 1991.

By this time, the reverse challenge for then Olongapo City mayor Richard Gordon was to overcome the impact of the U.S. bases’ closure. (To be continued)

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