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Water system upgrades still pending

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by Janjeera Hail

Guam - In 2008, a moratorium was imposed on all new projects in the central region, with GWA arguing that its wastewater system couldn't handle added demand.  But nine months after the moratorium was lifted, the Guam Waterworks Authority still hasn't made the necessary upgrades.

While the moratorium on new developments in Central Guam was lifted in April, the improvements to the sewer system promised by GWA is still stuck behind bureaucratic red tape.  GWA implemented a ten-month moratorium in May 2008, after it was determined that the aging wastewater system in the central region of the island couldn't handle additional demand.  And although new development projects have been given the green light, the plans to improve the ailing system haven't.

"The moratorium project is awaiting approval by the Guam legislature of the loan requirements of the Bank of Guam," said Simon Sanchez, chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities.  "Bank of Guam has agreed to loan GWA $30 million as a part of a $150 million borrowing GWA is going to undertake in 2010."

Sanchez says he expects the Legislature to approve the loan in January, so GWA can move on to the design phase of the moratorium project.  But for local developers like Century 21's Chris Felix, it's hard to swallow the sacrifice imposed by the moratorium when repairs still haven't been made to the system.  He said, "We lost hundreds of millions of dollars in investments. And I said it then and I say it today, we had investors willing to buy with hundreds of millions of dollars and we lost that and they didn't come back because the Asian economy shifted."

But Sanchez argues that many of the opportunities developers claim have passed us by may have fallen through anyway because of the decline of the Asian economy, saving GWA's aging system from unnecessary stress.  "Bad projects that might not have gotten financing and put pressure on GWA to build the projects sooner have disappeared with the global economic meltdown. Now we're seeing much more focused projects, smaller scale, more realistic," he said.

But the fact remains that more than a year after the moratorium was imposed, the system has still not seen the much-needed upgrades. And as new projects trickle in, the question remains whether Guam's wastewater will be able to handle an economy starving for growth.

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