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Lawmakers concerned about MARAD role

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - Despite the Port Authority of Guam's 12-page power point update on the agency's modernization program, several senators it seems weren't so impressed. Instead they grilled the new Port board and management team on what they believe has been years of dollars and nonsense.

Rough waters for the Port's management team and board members who may have sailed through their presentation to the legislature at first but were then caught up in a wave of criticism, rushed with questions on the actual role of the Maritime Administration in the Port's modernization program. "What we've been seeing over the last several months MARAD's role is akin to a federal receivership," noted Senator Rory Respicio.

Port board members made it clear to lawmakers they have the final say in the port's modernization program - but the legislature was even more critical of the impressions MARAD has made to senators and other federal entities. Senator Respicio said MARAD's been making their rounds to lawmakers bad mouthing the port. "Are you hearing that for the first time? Seriously, I'm telling you this for the first time," the senator asked, to which Port chairman Dan Tydingco replied, "No, I've heard that for the first time this morning prior to  you saying that and I want to make sure and establish to voracity of that claim."

So what exactly did MARAD say? Evidently the comments were made as a result of a disagreement over proposed improvements at the port's container yard. Senator Tom Ada said, "During the discussions the Port's idea of installing the terminal operating system and the gate operating system was described as 'misguided' and 'a mega-galactic system to support a superhighway'. I think those are rather strong descriptions, which show we got quite a gap to bridge."

And speaking of gaps, lawmakers like Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz was concerned about the years that have passed and the millions that have been spent with nothing to show. "We've spent now over $20 million in consulting and planning and we've not spent a penny on construction or implementation? Is that correct Mr. Chairman," he asked, with Tydingco saying, "That's correct. If you're asking whether any dirt has been turned over, you're right." Cruz followed-up with, "And is anyone going to jail for this?"

"Uh, no," Tydingco speculated. "Not yet."

Port Commercial Division Manager Glenn Nelson clarified that the consulting contract was for $19 million, but they've actually been paid $10 million, a third of that funding coming from local port customers the rest by a combination of federal dollars. Nelson also told lawmakers the dirt should have been turned last November and while Guam's Port modernization remains at bay, it appears the military's port improvements have been sailing ahead. Cruz said, "We started at the same time we both said that we're going to do a buildup and the choke point was ours was the port and we've not done anything and we spent over $10 million."

Tydingco says he understood senator's frustrations, but the new board is working to get the port's modernization sailing in a new direction. "I've only been there for three months and I'm totally frustrated as to why there have been logjams in a number of things," said the chairman. "But nonetheless, you guys have confirmed me and other board members and we are pushing forward on this. There may be people may not want to talk to us or deal with us - nevertheless, we're going to talk with everybody that wants to come aboard who want to get this project moving."

A part of moving forward, according to port board members, is opening dialogue and bettering communications with all stakeholders including MARAD, the Joint Guam Program Office, the Port Users Group, and the agency itself so that everyone is working off the same page, but again the port board stressed, it has the final say.

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