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By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Aug 17) – With Guam's future at stake, many Guam residents spoke before a Congressional panel at last night's town hall meeting on the looming military buildup.

The buildup's US$14 billion to US$15 billion price tag -- a scale about four times the size of Guam's economy -- generated a mix of positive and negative comments about what the military's increased presence would do to the island.

For some of the residents who spoke out, their concerns were related to money.

Others voiced hope that as the buildup preparations progress, the military and officials of the federal government treat Guam as a partner rather than a subordinate.

"We need to sit at the table as equals and talk about it," said Democratic Sen. Tina Muna Barnes, who added that her husband and oldest son serve in the U.S. military.

But while Guam has generally voiced support for increased military presence on island, a new issue, according to Barnes, could erode local support for the buildup.

Rising water price

The Navy's recent confirmation that it would double the price of the local water agency's purchase of water from the military-held Fena water treatment plant, Barnes said, "makes our local people very angry."

The Navy earlier this week confirmed it would increase the Guam Waterworks Authority's purchase price of water from Fena from about US$3 million to US$6 million a year because of increased cost to operate the water treatment plant.

The increase, which the Navy plans to implement in about two months, would equate to a 6 percent increase in what GWA customers pay for water, said Simon Sanchez, chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities.

The plant is the primary source of water for Nimitz, Santa Rita, Agat and other southern Guam areas.

"This increase in water cost, this unilateral action, ... jeopardizes local support," Muna Barnes said.

A major part of the Guam buildup involves the relocation from Okinawa of about 8,000 members of the U.S. Marines and about 9,000 of their relatives. The buildup's construction activities also are expected to cause an influx of about 15,000 construction workers.

With more civilian and military residents on Guam, the local population, last counted in a federal census at close to 160,000, would surge.

Becoming San Diego

Retired Marine Adolf Sgambelluri, a longtime Guam resident, commented that he expects Guam's quality of life to improve.

"I don't have a problem with Guam becoming like Oahu or San Diego," Sgambelluri said.

One benefit of the economic and population boom, Sgambelluri said, is that prices of consumer goods would drop because the local economy becomes bigger.

Another retired Marine, John Gerber, said he's disappointed that even some of Guam's elected officials have made comments that the Marines are "big, ... bad men."

The Marines built Marine Corps Drive and more than 300 miles of Guam roads after World War II, Gerber said. "When I heard about the Marines returning to Guam, I was very happy. It's a windfall," he said.

The military buildup has the support of "the silent majority of our people on Guam," Gerber said, citing surveys such as the Guam Chamber of Commerce's.

Those who cast the reputation of the Marines and the rest of the military in a bad light have no respect, he said, for American troops fighting in Iraq and deployed foreign missions such as Afghanistan.

"It really bothers me to hear my corps being trashed as they are in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting as we speak. This is not about the Marine Corps, this is a national defense issue," Gerber said. "I don't like people saying Marines are big, bad men ... that is not the Marines of today at all," Gerber said.

On record

The comments voiced at the town hall meeting, which were heard by congressional Delegates Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Madeleine Bordallo of Guam and Rep. Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa, were recorded and will become a part of congressional records.

Local officials asked the congressional delegates to be advocates for Guam's local community.

The meeting started around 6 p.m. at the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa and still continued past 9 last night.

The local community's voices will help to shape what the military's actions will be, said Christensen, chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs.

"Guam is now at a very, very critical point," Faleomavaega said.

Bordallo emphasized that the military's buildup plans for Guam are not final.

Money issue

Guam needs the federal government to provide Guam with the money to host the military buildup, rather than expect the local government to use "non-existent" local funds, said Sen. Eddie Calvo, the Guam Legislature's vice speaker and Finance Committee chairman.

Without federal money to help Guam host the buildup, Calvo offered the analogy of a rich brother visiting his poor brother's home and asking the poor brother to pay for the rich brother's stay.

Democratic Sen. Ben Pangelinan said rather than listing all of Guam's wishes for more money associated with the buildup, he gave the congressional panel his assessment of local sentiment.

"Some wholeheartedly welcome the military, some halfheartedly welcome the military, and some don't like the military," Pangelinan said.

He noted that the military in one meeting said it would not conduct live-ammunition exercises on Guam; and in another meeting said it would do so.

David Bice, executive director of the Joint Program Office, said he understands the local community's frustration about not getting more detailed information from the military.

But Bice said the buildup still is in a phase where "homework" is being done toward putting together more firm plans.

To emphasize the complexity of the "homework" and other preparations related to the buildup, Bice mentioned that the Japanese government's money contributions toward relocating U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam are a first for the country in terms for a foreign government financially supporting a move of American troops to U.S. soil.

Pangelinan also called for more military openness on what its plans are for Guam.

"If you want to come to Guam, say you want to come to Guam, ... otherwise, we have this adversarial relationship, ... this big brother coming to us," Pangelinan said.

"We need to be told the truth of what the military needs, ... and what they offer to Guam," Pangelinan said.

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