Friday, October 3, 2008

$15 billion military buildup program for Guam

Defense official: Buildup plans are on track

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Daily News

The turmoil on Wall Street could strain the U.S. government's budget, but from a national defense perspective, the planned military buildup on Guam will move forward, said a Department of Defense official who oversees buildup readiness.

"The relocation is going to occur," said retired Marine Maj. Gen. David Bice, executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office. The office oversees the proposed military buildup on Guam.

The projected plan to move about 8,500 U.S. Marines, and 9,000 of their dependents, from Okinawa to Guam could cost $15 billion, according to a federal government estimate.

The next major step that needs to cleared before any construction related to the Marines' relocation is the Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected to be out by early next year.

Part of the environmental clearance process' goal: to prevent or mitigate harm to protected species and to the host community's environment.The Defense Department also wants to ensure that culturally significant sites on Guam, as well as in the Northern Marianas, where a Marine training site is proposed, aren't adversely affected, Bice said.

While getting the federal environmental clearance is a complex task, Bice said the efforts toward the buildup are on track.

As earlier projected, the Defense Department still is targeting the Marine relocation-related construction on Guam to start in January 2010, Bice said.

A key to the progress in Guam's buildup readiness is the U.S. Maritime Administration's involvement in efforts to upgrade Guam's only commercial seaport to accommodate an expected surge in buildup-related cargo.

MARAD's role in the Guam seaport's expansion and upgrades is written into the National Defense Authorization Act, which has been signed into law, Bice said.

The Maritime Administration is expected to speed up processes to upgrade the port. The local government has voiced hope MARAD can also help to obtain part of the funding to upgrade the port. The seaport has stated it would need about $195 million for upgrades.

In addition to seeking federal funding, Bice encouraged the local government's port agency to seek private partners in improving the facility.

In getting ready for the relocation of the Marines, the Defense Department also is reviewing options to meet the buildup's need for additional power and wastewater capacity.

By around 2012, buildup-related demand would outpace some of the utility capacities on island, Bice said.

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