Thursday, March 25, 2010

$1.75 Billion

Buildup utilities cost: $1.75B
By Brett Kelman
Pacific Daily News
March 24, 2010

It could cost as much as $1.75 billion to prepare Guam's utilities for the military buildup and the growth beyond, and the federal government must pay for the costs that local residents cannot afford, the island's highest utility official said yesterday.

Simon Sanchez, chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities, explained this price tag during a closed-door briefing with President Obama's chief environmental adviser yesterday.

Sanchez said the island needs a commitment that the federal government is willing to pay to make Obama's "One Guam, Green Guam" vision a reality -- or delay the buildup.

"What we shared with the feds this morning was: Inside this $1.5 billion to $2 billion, we are going to find a number that is the most the people of Guam can afford to pay," Sanchez said.

That number is enough for only some of the upgrades Guam's power, water and wastewater systems need to prepare, Sanchez said. The buildup is expected to bring 80,000 more people to the island by 2014.

"If the federal government wants more than that to occur, they have to fill in the gap," Sanchez said.

Some of the sharpest expert criticism of the coming military buildup came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in February. Like Sanchez, the U.S. EPA said the buildup's impact on drinking water and wastewater could threaten the island's aquifer and public health.

If these concerns aren't addressed, U.S. EPA will call on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which acts as a referee when federal agencies disagree.
The council's chairwoman is Nancy Sutley -- whom Sanchez briefed yesterday morning.

Journalists weren't allowed to attend the briefing, which was held at the Naval Base admiral's office. Sanchez and Sutley spoke about their meeting during a tour of Guam's northern wastewater treatment plant yesterday afternoon.

Sutley said it was obvious that the island had many long-standing infrastructure needs and the buildup would add to those shortcomings. The puzzle of who pays for the solutions must be solved, she said.

"I know there are lots of discussions going on on costs and it is important information for us and this (is) clearly an issue we are going to have to resolve, about who pays and how," Sutley said. "... We have a lot to think about and a lot of work to do still."

Direct and indirect

Regardless of whether the buildup happens, many of these improvements would be unavoidable as Guam grows, Sanchez said. But the sudden spike in population in 2014 has forced some changes to happen sooner.

Some of these changes are direct impacts -- such as the increased power, water and sewage needs of the new Marine base -- for which the military has been more than willing to help pay, Sanchez said. One example is that the military has discussed paying as much as $50 million to make upgrades at the northern wastewater treatment plant that was toured yesterday, he said.

But indirect impacts are more difficult to plan for and pay for, so Guam needs even more money from the Department of Defense for these, Sanchez said.

For example: The Guam Power Authority had planned to build a new power plant in 2022, but because the buildup will increase power needs sooner, the plant is now needed in 2017, Sanchez said.

"So why should Ms. Cruz pay for debt service on the cost of another generator five years sooner than she would if (the Marines) didn't show up?" Sanchez said.
Closed doors

Sutley's two-day fact-finding trip ended yesterday, and much of her research about Guam has taken place behind closed doors.

Only hand-picked community groups were allowed in a stakeholders meeting on Monday afternoon, and journalists weren't allowed in the briefing held yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, Sutley met with local senators behind closed doors.

Sutley said the meetings were designed to create "frank and candid" conversations and she didn't know if journalists would get in the way of that.

Dave Lotz, president of the Guam Boonie Stompers, said he was insulted that the White House met with "cherry-picked" stakeholders on Monday.

The Boonie Stompers have worked to retain access to local hiking trails when the military expands it borders during the buildup. This group -- and anyone else who was interested -- should have been allowed in that stakeholders meeting with Sutley, Lotz said.

"Somebody was making a judgment that they thought these were the important groups," Lotz said. "The bigger picture, obviously, ... is why are these stakeholders meetings meant to exclude true community involvement?"

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