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Congressional delegation meets with island leaders

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by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - A congressional delegation arrived on island last night and today met with local leaders on the progress of the Marines realignment on Guam. And the visit also marks the first since hundreds of millions of dollars in military construction projects were recently approved by leaders in our nation's capital.

Several developments have taken place since a congressional delegation last paid the island a visit and according to House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee chairman Representative Robert Wittman of Virginia, it was a great opportunity to hear from local leaders in ensuring concerns related to the buildup take place in the right way.

"We want to make sure we're here communicating the things that have happened in Washington specifically as it relates to the National Defense Authorization Act and the recent appropriations bills that have passed," he said. "We want to make sure we understand Guam's concerns about how these decisions are made going forward to make sure as the military construction projects take place, that they take place in consideration of what needs to happen here in Guam."

It was just last week when the house passed the omnibus budget agreement that appropriates nearly a half-billion dollars for military construction projects on Guam, a part of which will fund civilian infrastructure projects. Wittman led the delegation and says concerns raised by local leaders will be reflected in the decisions made in our nation's capital in ensuring they are considerate of the culture and the environmental aspects of military related construction projects. This was his second trip to Guam.

"And it's good for us to come here in person to understand that to make sure as we make decisions in Washington and as we communicate with folks in the Pentagon that they understand too what local concerns  are," he said.

Wittman was joined by Texas representative Bill Flores, who agrees on the hands on approach, saying, "It was a fruitful and comprehensive discussion of the interest of Guam and the military strategic value of this region. I think it was very positive and I look forward to continuing the discussion and I'm glad we're here to see it first hand."

Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo has accompanied several codels in the past few years saying today's meeting came across very well. "We received quite a few good ideas today as we went through and I think their big concern is that we continue with this expansion of the military, that we're treated fairly as a civilian community just as other states are when there's expansion of military bases there," she said.

Representative Wittman ultimately says meeting with island leaders is critical in moving any decision forward adding there's an open door policy with other members in Congress. "I think coming here gives us the specifics of those concerns, the nature of those concerns and it allows us too to have a conversation so that we can understand that and if we need to come back to the leaders here on Guam, we have those personal relationships to be able do to that," he said.

The codel was set to visit military facilities on island along with being briefed on the missle defense system deployment which Wittman says he supports on island. The delegation is set to leave on Wednesday.

Speaker Judi Won Pat hosted the congressional delegation this morning saying representative Wittman was receptive even sharing his own experiences of having a military base in his community in Virginia who had concerns over infrastructure-a similar concern here on Guam. She said, "That if there's going to be this buildup that they have to consider as well the infrastructure and the island's roads, water, power, sewage and all that, so he's definitely in favor of that.

"The other topic that we brought up and he agreed in as well to look into a public private partnership to try to get the community more involved in the buildup in terms of housing that we should look into building military houses in the community rather than the plan to build only and stay within the base."

Won Pat says this codel visit was more cordial adding Wittman said things island leaders have been waiting to hear. 

Governor Calvo thanked the codel for their continue support of Guam and spoke about house appropriations that helped fix wastewater infrastructure and help the Port Authority of Guam. "We've always had tremendous support in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives. Our region is in a dynamic time in its history. Guam is nestled between two of the world's greatest economies, and our national defense needs to protect the interests of our growing region," Calvo says.  "The representatives from Congress continue to get a first-hand look at the progress of the realignment, and look into other critical military issues in the region. Our Delegate, Madeleine Z. Bordallo continues to push our efforts in the halls of Congress to make sure our voices are heard. She is ensuring this buildup helps those of us outside the fence as well."

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