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Some talk that repositioning would be too expensive

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 15, 2009) – The Pentagon yesterday also affirmed its commitment to the buildup, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates assured the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee it was still moving forward despite some U.S. lawmakers' concerns.

Both the United States and Japan plan to spend billions to relocate 8,000 U.S. Marines, as well as their dependents, from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

The buildup would triple the military's presence here, and require massive infrastructure improvements to handle increased construction and population. Japan will provide at least $2.8 billion for those infrastructure projects, part of a $6.09 billion contribution it expects to make toward the relocation, according to Pacific Daily News files.

Last month the lower, larger half of the Japanese Diet, or parliament, approved the accord signed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Japanese counterpart, Hirofumi Nakasone in February.

Although the opposition-controlled upper house voted down the agreement yesterday morning, the lower house backed the accord later in the day in line with its constitutional superiority over the upper house, the Associated Press reported.

'Still committed'

In Congress yesterday, Gates assured lawmakers that the Defense Department is continuing with the buildup plans.

"We are still committed to the re-basing to Guam," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee and specifically Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, a member of the committee. "We are committed to the program."

Bordallo responded by saying, "Thank you, ... that's what I wanted to hear."

Gates was answering a question from Bordallo about talk that the Pentagon might be reconsidering the move as it undertakes its upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review, a comprehensive strategic self-analysis done every four years.

Concern over the buildup on Capitol Hill was sparked by statements by Commandant Gen. James Conway, the Marines' top officer, that the move likely would cost the Pentagon about $10 billion -- rather than the $4 billion originally estimated.

The added cost could mean the move may not be complete by the 2014 deadline, Conway said.

"Nothing, I think it's fair to say, would be done in 2010 that would anchor us one way or another," Conway told a Senate panel.

His statement got the attention of senior members of the House Armed Services Committee, including chairman Ike Skelton, who visited Guam in February.

"Congress still has significant concerns regarding the planned move of the Marines from Okinawa to Guam," said Skelton, D-Mo. "At over $10 billion, it is an enormous project, and I am concerned that the thinking behind it is not yet sufficiently mature. We need to do this, but it needs to be done right."

GAO report

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office said the Defense secretary's office needs to be more involved in managing the Marine redeployment.

The report concluded, "Only high-level leadership from the secretary of Defense can marshal the resources ... that may be required to better assist the communities."

Guam's infrastructure will be highly stressed, the report concluded.

The GAO report noted that "Guam's water and wastewater systems are near capacity, and demand may increase by 25 percent under the buildup."

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