QUESTIONS MANY, ANSWERS FEW IN GUAM TROOP BUILDUP

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By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Feb. 1) – Will Guam get some of the dollars from the US$10 billion in relocation funds that the U.S. and Japan are putting up for the relocation of Marines? If so, then how much will be available to Guam? Will local contractors get a share of military construction projects? Will the federal government lift the cap on H2 visas for Guam to allow foreign workers to pick up the construction jobs? What exactly is the Pentagon’s plan for Guam?

Hundreds of questions were asked by Guam senators during their meeting with Pentagon officials but they only got one solid answer: There are no answers to these questions yet.

About 8,000 U.S. Marines will be transferred from Okinawa, Japan to Guam by 2012 but relocation plans remain vague. Local officials were told that the Marines’ relocation was still in the planning stage and that details were not readily available.

Gov. Felix P. Camacho yesterday asked Major General David Bice, recently named executive director of the Department of Defense’s Joint Guam Program Office, to lobby Congress on Guam’s behalf for funding to help the local government meet its goals.

The governor hosted a breakfast meeting with Bice and Rear Admiral Joe Leidig, commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Marianas, at Government House in Agana Heights yesterday morning.

"General Bice and Admiral Leidig reaffirmed the defense department’s commitment to Guam’s best interests and to our working partnership throughout this process," Camacho said.

"General Bice is an asset to our efforts. He will help us get our voice heard in Congress so we can get the funding we need to improve our island further, both inside and outside the military fence line," he added.

According to the governor’s office, the talks among the officials focused on the opportunity for public-private partnerships that will build the infrastructure needed on and off the military bases in order to accommodate the build-up and sustain Guam’s anticipated growth.

Camacho also sought Bice’s support for the formulation of a Guam master plan inclusive of civilian and military efforts to respond to growth needs

Bice, Liedig and Brig. Gen. Douglas Owens, commander of the 36th Wing Andersen Air Force, held a separate meeting with members of the Legislature on the Navy Base.

"This meeting was necessary for everyone to voice their concerns and to discuss possible solutions. It was very beneficial," Bice said. "The meeting today allowed candid discussions on a multitude of issues facing all parties involved and will serve as a great foundation as we move forward".

Issues discussed were the potential cultural, economic, social, and environmental issues related to the relocation.

"There is still lots of information that they have to give us, given the timelines involved here. It’s difficult for them to give us any hard information about what’s coming," Speaker Mark Forbes, R-Sinajana, told Variety.

One of the things that has been agreed upon, Forbes said, is the need for the military, the federal and local governments to regularly interact for dialogs throughout the planning stage.

"DoD can be of assistance to us in addressing a lot of territorial issues," Forbes said.

He said some of the local government’s concerns require policy decisions that are beyond the purview of the military.

One of the issues that Forbes raised during the meeting had to do with the Section 30 provision, which he said must be amended to ensure that Guam gets a share of the taxes paid by military personnel, who belong to commands that operate on Guam but officially homeported elsewhere.

Under the Section 30 provision of the Organic Act, Guam only receives tax reimbursements from military personnel who are homeported in Guam.

Forbes also wants to make sure that a level playing field is established to ensure that local companies benefit from the construction projects.

Sen. Jesse Lujan, R-Tamuning, and Sen. Rory Respicio, D-Agana Heights, said "no new information came out of the meeting."

"They said nothing that we haven’t heard before. Even the military officials remain in the dark. When we asked about the plan, they said it’s still being put together. There’s no final plan yet," Lujan said.

Lujan noted that a congressional bill allows the hiring of H2 workers to work on military base construction sites, but the visa cap for Guam has not been lifted.

"That’s one question that they need to answer," Lujan said, deploring the U.S. military’s fragmented planning approach.

"The planning must be done holistically. It can’t be isolated to specific needs. And the planning must involve not only the military but the civilian population as well," Lujan said.

Respicio, for his part, said military officials told senators that relocation funds were not available yet and that there was no answer either for Guam’s request for assistance to build the infrastructure.

"They said there’s no money yet. Appropriations have not been made. They have a mission to relocate the Marines, but they have yet to figure out how to make it happen.

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