Social, economic impacts of Guam buildup are the 'biggest concerns'
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
By Haidee V. Eugenio
Fitial considers islands 'homeport' for Army joint high-speed vessels
Guam Gov. Felix P. Camacho and CNMI Gov. Benigno R. Fitial cited socio-economic impacts as the “biggest” concerns about the massive military buildup in the region, including the lack of funding sources to cushion negative effects to the civilian community worth at least $3 billion in Guam alone and an expected decrease in tourist arrivals on Tinian as a result of increased military presence there.
Guam and the CNMI are racing against time to beat the Feb. 17 deadline for submitting comments on the military buildup's draft environmental impact statement.
The general concern so far is the socio-economic impacts to both Guam and the CNMI, followed by environmental concerns, Camacho and Fitial said.
“We need to be very careful and understand what we are getting into. We don't want to rush into something we don't understand,” Fitial said.
He said the CNMI is “lucky” that it is “learning from Guam's experience.”
'High speed vessels'
Fitial, at the same time, responded to a letter from Guam Sen. Judith Guthertz, who asked whether the CNMI government is interested in having Army joint high speed vessels stationed on Saipan.
“The CNMI will continue to work with and support the territory of Guam in regards to all of the upcoming military realignment in the Pacific region. I will gladly consider having the CNMI as the homeport for stationing and operations of the [joint high speed vessels],” Fitial told Guthertz.
The U.S. Army Environmental Command has opened the public comment period for the preparation of a programmatic environmental impact statement in 2010 for the proposed stationing and operation of up to 12 joint high-speed vessels.
These are strategic transport vessels designed to support the rapid transport of military troops and equipment in the U.S. and abroad.
A copy of the Army's notice of intent is available at www.aec.army.mil.
'Lack of funding sources'
Camacho, who was on Saipan for hours yesterday, said although billions of dollars in construction projects in Guam are promised, “there's no guarantee they will be there tomorrow.”
“There's no funding source to mitigate the impact to our territory,” he said, adding that past experiences resulted in huge debts incurred by Guam that it has come to a point where the island no longer has capability to borrow money.
Camacho said Guam needs a minimum of $3 billion to mitigate the social-impacts of the buildup, but he said no money has been set aside to address these impacts.
He said the buildup cost “should not be something borne by the people,” and that both Japan and the United States should consider the impacts to the host island, including in the area of public health, public safety, schools and housing.
Camacho said another major concern is the environmental impact, including massive dredging of corals at the Apra Harbor.
Guam hired consultants Matrix Design Group to help sift through some 11,000 pages of the draft military buildup EIS for easy understanding.
“No decisions have been made,” Camacho said, adding that comments on the draft EIS will help shape the final EIS to be released later this year.
Tom Linden, the coordinator for the CNMI Military Integration Management Committee, said all comments from mayors have been received and will be finalized this week for submission to the governor. The MIMC seeks to have a unified voice on the planned buildup.
He said there's been no mitigation measure offered so far to address the expected decrease in tourist arrivals to Tinian as a result of limited access to the northern end of the island because of military training.
Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz said Tinian has been “waiting” for the military buildup on Tinian for “30 years,” and hopes the U.S. military will have a permanent base on the island. He hopes an expected decrease in civilian tourist arrivals to the island will be mitigated by an increase in military personnel and their families' visit to Tinian for rest and recreation.
Dela Cruz also said the military should ensure an effective quarantine system to prevent brown tree snakes, rhinoceros beetles and other invasive species from entering Tinian.
Dela Cruz also informed Fitial and Camacho yesterday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told him that the federal agency will issue the Tinian municipality a citation this month because of a non-compliant landfill. He did not elaborate when asked for more information about EPA's citation.
Camacho formally asked U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to delay the implementation of the military buildup in Guam beyond 2014 “to protect the integrity of the III Marine Expeditionary Force and ensure that impacts are minimized to our island infrastructure and socioeconomic services.”
As of yesterday, Guam has yet to receive a response to this request from the U.S. Navy.
But Camacho, in an interview with Saipan Tribune, said he will bring up the issue in the upcoming National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C.
'Move them to Tinian'
Guthertz also urged federal officials to stretch the timeline for the military buildup to alleviate the adverse impacts expected with the population boom.
Guthertz, who chairs the Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security, recommended that the planned relocation of the 8,000 Marines to Guam be reduced by about 4,000.
She said the First Marine Aircraft Wing aviation command can be shifted to Tinian and the uninhabited island of Agrigan in the CNMI.
This, she said, would allow for the relocation of about half of the 8,652 infantry Marines intended to be transferred to Guam to be sent to the vacated Futenma facilities instead.
Because Guam cannot accommodate all training for the relocating Marines, the military also looks at Tinian to provide opportunities for training groups of 200 Marines or larger due to greater land availability.