Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Camacho asks Defense to slow buildup

Camacho asks Defense to slow buildup

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno • • January 30, 2010

Saying Guam simply can't absorb the shock of a population surge in four years, Gov. Felix Camacho is asking the Defense Department to relocate about 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents to Guam in eight years instead of four.

Rather than completing the Marines' relocation from Okinawa to Guam by 2014, Camacho is requesting the Defense Department for a phase-in time extending through 2018.

"I believe that a request for an extension would help lessen the impact of the military buildup on Guam. In fact, during our village workshop on Jan. 20, I expressed my intention to ask the United States to consider extending their deadline for the buildup," according to Camacho.

"The extension will greatly impact every area of public concern. It will lessen the pressure currently being placed on our people to accommodate a significant influx in our population," the governor added.

Camacho on Thursday wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus requesting the delay.

Guam's population is expected to soar -- with 79,178 additional people in 2014, an increase of almost half the current population. And as the population increases, the military buildup is expected to create 33,000 new jobs by 2014, according to the military's draft Environmental Impact Statement. In 2014 alone, the government of Guam would see $325 million in additional revenue -- an increase of about 60 percent of its current annual budget, according to the impact statement.

Island residents have until mid-February to comment on the draft EIS.

The proposed delay in the completion of the Marines' move, according to the governor, "will lessen the impact on our territory, to give us more time to make preparations, and that affects everything from the number of wells that need to be drilled, the number of workers that need to be here at a certain time."

The island also needs more time to expand the island's only commercial port of entry for construction materials for the military buildup, according to the governor.

"I don't have a set date, but I think that moving it beyond 2014 to even 2018, a four-year push, would be better for us. It is a more sustained growth. There's no peak and a bust," Camacho said in an interview yesterday.

There will be no post-buildup recession as predicted in the draft impact statement, he added.

David Leddy, president of the Guam Chamber of Commerce, said the governor's request is consistent with the Defense Department's revisions to the buildup timetable.

"We think a delay is good for the island as it will afford us more time to assimilate the changes that are coming forth and for more of our local businesses to participate," Leddy said.

Gerry Perez, a member of the initial group of Guam Chamber officials who started knocking on doors in Washington, D.C., almost a decade ago to invite the military to expand its presence on Guam as the island faced an economic downturn starting with the economic crisis, said yesterday Guam also needs to consider America's national security interests.

Voicing his personal opinion, Perez, who also is the Guam Visitors Bureau general manager, said: "I can say that our original objective of attracting a larger military footprint to expand our economic base, provide local employment, and stimulate other economic activity was a success."

"The key question now before the island's leadership is how best to negotiate and harness this military buildup opportunity in a manner that benefits the local community while satisfying our national security interests," Perez said.

"Quite frankly, it is the reality of funding, capacity constraints, and the timely resolution of differences in the magnitude and dispersal of this (military expansion footprint) that will ultimately determine the buildup schedule, whether in 2014 or beyond," Perez said.

The relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam is part of a Japan-United States pact to reduce the presence of U.S. troops in Okinawa.

Japan has agreed to pay $6 billion of the $10.2 billion relocation cost under an agreement that was finalized last year -- before a new set of Japanese elected leaders came into office.

Later last year, however, some of the newly elected leaders in Japan began to suggest they want all U.S. troops out of Okinawa completely. In recent weeks, Japan officials hinted they may ask for the bilateral agreement to be renegotiated.

The relocation of Marines to Guam is part of a broader military expansion plan on Guam, which includes building an Army missile defense facility, and accommodations and wharf facilities for recurring visits of an aircraft carrier or two, according to preliminary military plans.

Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz and Delegate Madeleine Bordallo both have written letters in support of extending the amount of time residents can comment on the buildup's draft impact statement.

Without the granting of the 45-day extension request, Guam residents have until Feb. 18, Guam time, to comment. The deadline to comment is Feb. 17, Washington time.

Bordallo was unavailable for comment yesterday. The Defense Department's Joint Guam Program Office, which coordinates buildup issues, did not have an immediate comment.

Sen. Judith Guthertz also has called for the Marines' move to be stretched "over a period of eight years instead of only two years."

The island would have to accommodate not only the Marines and their dependents, but also workers from off island who will contribute to the population boom.

"We reported on the availability of workforce housing and all of the Guam Land Use Commission's approval of all those properties in terms of the needs of the H2 workforce," said Department of Land Management Director Chris Duenas.

He said the agency presented more than 130 comments on the draft EIS to the governor's office.

The department also visited JGPO officials and requested a discussion between JGPO, the governor's office and the Legislature.

"The military and JGPO should go to the governor's office and the Legislature to discuss the possibilities of what they would do in terms of land exchange and what that would mean for the people of Guam."

The department has been working with the Chamorro Land Trust and the Ancestral Land Commissions to ensure they all have the correct inventory on the properties on Guam, Duenas said.

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