Mainland conference cashes in on buildup - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Mainland conference cashes in on buildup

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - The military buildup and the impacts it will have on the Marianas is the focus of the Hita I Marianas Conference, which kicked-off today in San Diego, California.  More than 300 people attended day one of the forum.  Participants included military, federal, and local officials, interested vendors and companies looking to get a piece of the buildup opportunities and former Guam residents contemplating a return to the island.

Joint Guam Program Office Director David Bice talked about the military's plans for adaptive execution of the buildup, originally slated to be completed by 2014. Bice admitting accommodating 80,000 more people and having infrastructure and construction completed in four years is unrealistic. 

He told KUAM News, "We're going to slow the construction pace as well as work the sequences of these construction projects and monitor and control the relocation and flow of the marines from Okinawa to Guam and their families so that we stay well within the capacities on Guam as determined by the wastewater, water, the power, roads, the port throughput and the like there."

Bice announced that the final environmental impact statement should be released to the public in the next 6-7 weeks.  More than 10,500 comments will be addressed within Volume 10 of the DEIS in 7,800 pages. The final record of decision is expected in early September, setting the stage for construction to begin soon after.  That construction must include replacing, repairing and upgrading Guam's fragile utilities infrastructure. 

Consolidated Commission on Utilities Chairperson Simon Sanchez reiterated that message during his presentation today, saying, "General Bice and other representatives from the federal government made it very clear that it's their intention that the island of Guam is served by this buildup and that the quality of life is equally good whether it's for Tan Maria or Sergeant Smith, and we're going to hold them to it."

With the island currently experiencing significant water problems from the north to the south, Sanchez says broken water pipes and frequent water outages further stress the importance that the system must be fixed. There's growing optimism though that the feds will foot a large portion of the bill.  "General Bice talked about slowing down the buildup that's probably a reasonable expectation to allow the civilian infrastructure to get the investment," he added.  "Congresswoman Bordallo's talked about getting a half-billion dollars worth of money advanced from DoD so everyone on the federal side realizes you've got to put the money into Guam or else you can't have the buildup."

That money coupled with funds from the Japanese government will also help.  "There's some indication that there may be some increasing flexibility where Japan was going to put $700+ million into infrastructure for the buildup and everyone now realizes, including Japan, that some of that has to come to the civilian side because the systems are connected to the civilian side."

Bice announced today that about $600 million of that money is expected to be utilized for infrastructure needs off the bases.  Hita I Marianas organizer Jay Merrill says there was also positive news from the Department of the Interior announced today, saying, "The White House has placed this on very high priority. They'll be working very diligently to make sure that the task force that was originally designed to find special funding does follow through and there's going to be some announcements in the near future of how the process is succeeding."

The conference continues tomorrow and will wrap up with a Marianas job opportunities fair that is intended to showcase opportunities to entice former Guam residents to return home to the island.

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