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Port to MARAD: move modernization forward

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - A delegation of island officials spent the weekend in Washington, DC to discuss their dismay with the United States Maritime Administration's lack of progress with the Port's modernization efforts. The message was clear: Guam no longer has the luxury of time as the Port must begin its modernization efforts.

Several years ago nearly $100 million was identified to help modernize the Port Authority, but not a single project has started. "The bottom line at the end of the day, is that we have to make repairs now and we can't wait," noted Senator Tom Ada. As

Transportation Committee chairman, Ada joined Governor Eddie Calvo, Port board chairman Dan Tydingco and others in the nation's capitol this weekend for serious discussions with MARAD. Island officials have been displeased with the slow pace in getting the modernization moving.

Senator Ada says the governor said it best, stating, "He certainly made it very clear that the progress at the Port has to move faster than the glacial speed that it's been moving at this point," said Ada.

For more than a year, the Port's modernization plans have been just that - plans, without dirt being turned on a single project. The delay has been with MARAD's significant focus on the deteriorating wharves. MARAD is now on its third study.

"The Port is saying look all these studies are basically going to come back and further validate what everybody already knows that we need to make repairs to the wharves," Ada said.

MARAD has estimated the repairs to be between $48 million and $100 million but the Port's engineering consultant believes those figures are an understatement. Ada says the delays have prompted concerns with third parties including the port's insurance company and lending institutions, noting, "They may decide not to ensure and if they decide to continue ensuring it will be at a higher premium. Then there's the lending institution that's looking at lending $15 million for the purchase of gantry cranes and they're having their concerns about providing a loan to purchase cranes that will be put on a wharf whose physical soundness is questionable."

Given the government's limited resources, the Port has taken the position that it needs to act now but within its financial limitations. Officials asked that the port be allowed to utilize $10 million to $15 million from the $50 million DOD grant to maintain and repair the wharf to extend its life for another decade. At the same time, the Port wants to commence improvements to upland projects as part of a balanced approach to the modernization.

Said Ada, "That is the expansion of the brake bulk yard, the expansion of the container yard and begin that work using the environmental documentation that has already been completed by the port's engineering consultant."

Officials hope the balanced approach would result in seeing progress in the middle of the year as opposed to waiting until next year. MARAD meanwhile didn't provide any answers during this weekend's meeting. Instead they're expected to send an official response in the next week or two.

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