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Customs opening new cargo facility

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by Heather Hauswirth

Customs and Quarantine officials are working against the clock to make sure they're adequately prepared for the opening of a new cargo facility that will be hustling and bustling at the peak of the military buildup.

Guam's Customs officials have a critical role as defenders of the front line.  "We are the front line for many government agencies on top of the law enforcement duties these guys are trained to do they are law enforcement officers by nature but are also trained in all these different specialties," said Director Colonel Dennis Santo Tomas.

Customs officers monitor cargo of all kinds, from illegal products for the Department of Agriculture to endangered species of utmost concern to U.S. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.  Major Darlene Merfalen recounts a time last week when Customs officials flagged a lizard inside a box of cut flowers that came in from Florida, saying, "Our officer, Derrick Guerrero, intercepted a lizard that was inside the box...this is the first type of lizard that entered Guam and it was identified by the planned inspection facility officer and it was a good interception."

To prepare for the exponential increase in cargo expected to pour through in freight as a result of the influx in cargo due to the military buildup, Col. Santo Tomas promises the overall operation will be more expedient and efficient than it has been for the last decade.  He said, "For the last 12 to 15 years we were operating on a very confined and restricted area that was very limited. We didn't have any storage ability for any un-manifested cargo, suspect cargo, and things of that nature."

Customs Chief Ralph Sgambelluri says the agency is still more prepared than most government entities when it comes to the military build up in large part because they generate their own revenue.  "Now we are in a facility where we are way ahead of the game with regards to the military build up, one of the few government agencies ready to take on the huge magnitude of this movement," he said.

But it's not entirely smooth sailing.  With more cargo and a bigger facility comes a need for more hands on deck. With the holiday season approaching, this appears to be even more critical.  "We have to beef up our manpower to try to clear these containers and bring them over to the business establishments so that the consumers can get ready for the Christmas season," Merfalen said.

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