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USEPA examining island's infrastructure needs

by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was one of the only federal agencies critical of the Department of Defense's plans to increase its presence locally. The regulatory agency had called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement "environmentally unsatisfactory", one of the worst ratings the agency could give when reviewing such documents.   

In its comments to the final version of the EIS, although much more positive, the USEPA was still concerned about the DoD's plans and its impact on Guam's environment, specifically its fragile water and wastewater systems and the coral reef in Apra Harbor.  Today a meeting was held in Harmon between representatives from the Department of Defense, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Consolidated Commission on Utilities.

Nancy Woo is an associate director of the Water Division for the USEPA's Region IX, and told KUAM News, "We're trying to support the One Guam concept so that the residents of Guam have equal access to water and wastewater service that is afforded to those on base. So that's going to take coordination with the DoD, the Government of Guam, the Guam Waterworks Authority, the Guam Power Authority and potential federal funders."

It's this concept we first heard about in March when President Barack Obama was supposed to visit the island, but cancelled due to the debate on Capitol Hill on health reform.  According to the Obama Administration's "One Guam, Green Guam" vision, it's designed to make sure they're investing in capabilities on Guam that are environmentally sustainable. "We will be working with the DoD and GWA for the entire duration of the buildup," said Woo, "also to support that One Guam concept so that we lend to GWA our voice and the voice that supports the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act requirements so that One Guam concept is not lost as the DoD is focusing on the on-base improvements."

On base improvements that as of Wednesday, a half-billion dollars has been committed by the Government of Japan to fund for several relocation-related projects.  The Final EIS meanwhile made mention of an additional $740 million the Government of Japan has agreed to finance for utilities upgrades, including the Northern District and Agana wastewater treatment plants.

In total though, the USEPA believes $1.3 billion is needed to bring the island's water and wastewater systems to where they need to be. These were all topics covered during discussions today.  "How are we going to coordinate all our resources and funding?" asked Woo of her guiding mission, adding, "And it looks like we're going to have to work very closely together in order to make sure we're not stepping over each other. To make sure the funding is properly coordinated and complementary to each other."

Funding is a critical concern to the USEPA, as it noted in its comments on the final version of the EIS.  USEPA's Jared Blumenfeld wrote the Defense Department must commit to seeking funding for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in order to avoid negative impacts to our island's health and the environment. Other mitigation efforts that need to take place: the DoD must manage construction and the arrival of military personnel through adaptive program management and undertake an additional assessment of coral at Apra Harbor.

Similar meetings like today's were held back in March when the USEPA delegation was on Guam, including Woo.  Additional talks will take place next week when officials from the Japanese government are expected to arrive to Guam.

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