Monday, November 09, 2009

U.S. to release huge report on impact of Guam buildup

U.S. to release huge report on impact of Guam buildup

By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TOKYO — It weighs in at 10 volumes and has more than 5,000 pages of text and 9,000 pages of appendices and tables.

Putting it together was a chore, but figuring out what it all means might be the hardest part.

After more than 2½ years of research, the U.S. military this month will release a mammoth study explaining how its expansion plans on Guam will affect the land, water, wildlife and living standards on the island.

The study, officially called an environmental impact statement (EIS), is part of the Defense Department’s required legwork to add 8,000 Marines, an Army air defense unit and repeated aircraft carrier visits to an island with a land mass slightly smaller than Chicago.

Moreover, the study’s release in the Nov. 20 issue of the Federal Register will be the first detailed look at the military’s plans for most local leaders and residents. On Guam, which is across the International Date Line, the release date will be Nov. 21.

To prepare for the release, Guam’s governor hired a Colorado engineering and planning firm for more than a year to help decipher the impact statement.

Last month, night classes were held at community and senior centers to help people understand what to expect.

The military has set up a special Web site — — and promised to put extra copies in libraries and government offices to provide more widespread access to the free document.

With such public anticipation for the weighty and complicated document, the military is trying to ensure the report doesn’t land with a thud.

"Most of the time, draft EIS’s don’t get much attention," said David Bice, a former Marine major general now serving as the Pentagon’s point man on the Guam buildup project. "The size and complexity of this EIS is not like anything I’ve ever dealt with. It’s a huge document. Ten volumes of 15,000 pages. Holy cow."

The release of the draft statement comes as Japanese and U.S. leaders are still discussing the future of 8,000 Marines’ current home on Okinawa. Both countries agreed in 2006 to move that many Marines to Guam by 2014, and Japan promised to pay $6.09 billion of the $10.3 billion estimated cost. Last summer, the U.S. military cashed the first payment, $335 million, from Japan.

More recently, a newly elected government in Japan has balked at the agreement because it calls for a new Marine air station in a rural portion of Okinawa.

Yet Bice says the military is moving ahead to meet a goal of awarding some construction contracts in 2010. Already, Navy engineers in Hawaii are soliciting for applicants to a "multiple award construction contract," a comprehensive job that would pay an estimated $4 billion to facilitate building various parts of the expansion.

Guam leaders and residents are both embracing and bracing for the planned expansion, which Bice once compared to adding 2.5 million people to New York City almost overnight.

"A lot of people are not opposed to the buildup," said Sen. Judith Guthertz, who chairs Guam’s legislative committee that oversees the military expansion. "They know it’s going to change their island. They just don’t want to change it too much."

Understanding that change begins, in many ways, with the draft statement. Already, local officials have won one request, which will double the normal review period from 45 days to 90 days.

There’s benefit for those who peruse through the legalese. The statement will explain where the military plans to build its gates and how it will mitigate for excess traffic, people, training and trash. It also will indicate who might benefit by selling a section of land needed for a wider road or offering convenient housing for the construction workers expected to migrate to the island.

Finding those insights, though, will be hard, officials say. The statement will be filled with scientific analysis and technical terms, which even the military needs help verifying. And that process already has begun, to some local leaders’ surprise.

Guthertz learned at her own committee meeting last month that several Guam employees had received early portions of the statement for a technical review. Those employees, including Guam’s top Environmental Protection Agency official, signed agreements with the military promising confidentiality.

"It’s not something commonly practice in my understanding," said Lorilee Crisostomo, Guam EPA’s administrator.

She and Bice said the military and the island staff, who also helped build the data within the document, agreed to the early reviews months ago.

"It’s not designed for secrecy," Bice said of the reviews, which he called technical in nature. "It’s designed to keep the integrity of the process."

Still, it struck a chord on a U.S. territory that often feels ignored.

"Maybe other communities, local government might represent them, or at least in Congress," said Sen. Edward J. B. Calvo, the Guam legislature’s minority leader, noting that Guam’s one congresswoman has a committee but no floor vote in the House of Representatives.

"As a territory, we just don’t have that same type of political family," Calvo said. "Here, it’s more unilateral decisions."

It doesn’t help that the omnibus defense budget, signed into law by President Obama last month, contains $734 million for the Guam buildup yet left out the island’s claims for war reparations, Guthertz and Calvo said. Under the proposal, the claims would compensate island residents and descendants of those imprisoned, tortured and killed by the Japanese during World War II. The proposal, which Obama supports, was shot down for the third time this fall.

That irony prompted Guthertz to release her own proposal. When the reparations were cut in October, she introduced a bill to impose a local toll on federal vehicles entering and leaving the military base on the island.

A week later, she put the proposal on hold. When asked about it, Guthertz chuckled and said she did it to get Washington’s attention as the environmental impact statement is released.

"If you’re looking for more land on Guam, you’d better be careful how you ask," she said.

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