Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Bordallo: Timeline 'ambitious': Residents speak out on buildup at town hall meetings

Bordallo: Timeline 'ambitious': Residents speak out on buildup at town hall meetings

By Laura Matthews • Pacific Sunday News • January 31, 2010

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo yesterday said she believes the military buildup will have to be extended beyond its current 2014 deadline.

"We feel this is big," Bordallo said. "And we got delays along the way, and so we never thought -- even from the beginning -- that it would ever conclude by 2014."

The congresswoman echoed the sentiments of Gov. Felix Camacho at a town hall meeting yesterday at the University of Guam, where she held the first of five public hearings on the buildup.

These town hall meetings are another opportunity for residents to comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement before the Feb. 17 deadline.

"The Congress and the governor control the breaks and spending for this buildup," Bordallo said. "And the timeline, we feel, will ultimately have to be pushed back. I mean it is very ambitious."

Camacho wrote Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Thursday asking him to delay the arrival of 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents.

Additionally, Guam's population is about to surge by approximately 80,000 in 2014 -- an increase of almost half the current population. This increase means that the island will get 20 years of growth in five years.

The buildup will create 33,000 new jobs for civilian workers by 2014, which is expected to generate a tax revenue of $325 million for the GovGuam that year alone, according to the draft EIS report. That is a 60 percent increase in GovGuam's current annual tax revenue.

Guam residents will take up about 2,000 direct on-site construction jobs for the Marine Corps facilities between 2013 and 2014. Furthermore, excluding on-site construction jobs, locals will only benefit from 2,566 jobs during the 2014 construction boom. The related jobs "include civilian military jobs, direct from purchases jobs and indirect or induced jobs," the draft EIS said.

Camacho said the delay will help more residents qualify themselves for the jobs.

"There are shortages all throughout the skilled areas and that is evident by the number of people we have to bring in," Camacho said. "What this means is that we can better prepare our kids and they can train up. Rather our kids can get into these industries."

But Bordallo said the number of workers coming on the island can be controlled by the governor himself.

"The governor can control the guest worker numbers because he signs certification," she said.

Whether or not the number of workers certified to come to Guam for the buildup is lessened, there are still other issues that must be dealt with.

The island will have to drill more wells to accommodate the additional population, and expand the commercial port to handle incoming construction material.

Moreover, the Department of Defense plans to widen an existing shipping channel to fit one of its carriers, and make a turning basin near the wharf that will dredge about 2.3 million square feet of sea floor. Nearly 35 percent of that area is covered in coral reef that will be permanently destroyed, the draft EIS stated.

This doesn't sit well with Sen. Benjamin Cruz, the chairman for the Committee on Tourism, who on Friday said he appropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Guam Environmental Planning Agency to determine if radioactive material is present in the area.

However, the agency has yet to give him an answer, and yesterday he pressed the congresswoman to look into the dredging plans on island.

"Your deafening silence in not speaking out about the dredging of the coral, it's not only disturbing, it is unconscionable," he said. "And you won an award last year for this. You probably need to return the award."

Bordallo assured Cruz that she has many professionals looking into the issue.

But this isn't enough for some residents. In fact, they just want the military to just get out.

At a rally yesterday in Anigua for the "Freedom To Make Our Own Decisions", Trini Torres, a leader for the Taotaomona Native Rights and Chamorro Nation, said residents must unite to protect the island from the buildup.

The group was dedicating the new Plasan Maga' Lahi Hurao beach park, which is across the street from Pigo Cemetery, to Hurao, the leader of the Chamorro people during the Chamorro Spanish War, which began in 1671. Torres said Hurao fought for the freedom of the Chamorros, which the group is now asking from the United States.

"We don't want to be a colony anymore," she said.

Torres said the group wants the island's people to unite to protect the island from the buildup.

"This buildup, we are afraid of it," she said. "How can we survive when we lose our island? The U.S. needs to just get out."

Other residents like Will Calori, 29, of Mangilao believes that the draft EIS contains inaccurate information, which makes them unable to make valid comments.

Clutching his 2-year-old son in his arms, the businessman said if he only cared about making money today, then he probably wouldn't give the issue as much thought as he is now.

"We're not getting the accurate information and we aren't able to make a thorough decision on what is going to happen," he said. "I think (children) are the reason we are here. I want his kids to enjoy this island after it's all done."

The draft EIS provides a detailed account of how Guam's community will be affected through changes caused by the buildup. JGPO and a team of socioeconomic experts collected feedback from the Guam and CNMI governors, the Chambers of Commerce, other island resources and community experts in its assessment of what kind of impact the relocation of Marines to Guam will have on the island's education, health care services, employment opportunities, property values, crime, cost of living and other socioeconomic issues.

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