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But lawmakers preoccupied with budget preparations

By Jude Lizama

HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, July 30, 2009) – After decades of neglect, the Guam Port Authority has amped up efforts to modernize the largest U.S. deepwater port in the western Pacific in order to maintain a critical role in the planned military realignment on Guam. But port general manager Glenn Leon Guerrero points to the legislature’s inaction on the port’s master plan as a possible hindrance to the authority’s plans to upgrade the harbor facilities.

In order to meet the enormous investments required to stay competitive and engaged during the years ahead, the Port Authority has identified more than US$200 million in funding potential. Integral to the authority’s plans however is more than US$156 million in federal dollars, one-third of which will come from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

However, the unprecedented response to the worst economic crisis to hit the world since the 1930’s Great Depression comes with equally unprecedented regulatory compliance demands to assure the public of a higher degree of accountability.

Part of the Port Authority’s effort to move forward requires the authority to put together a comprehensive master plan for improvements if they are to secure US$50 million in much-needed stimulus funds. But in a presentation to Variety by PAG general manager and Monte Mesa, chairman for PAG’s board of directors it appears that the Guam legislature does not have the same sense of urgency in seeing the master plan finalized in accordance with stimulus fund timelines.

The Port Authority is also waiting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s response to its US$54.5 million loan application.

PAG officials noted that they have until September 15 to submit the necessary paperwork to apply for the funding.

Nonetheless, Senator Tom C. Ada, chairman of the legislative committee on utilities, transportation, public works and veterans affairs, when reached by phone yesterday afternoon, told Variety that the legislature is not in a crisis situation with regards to approving the port master plan.

"I fully recognize that the approval of the master plan is a critical piece for the port authority to submit a request for stimulus funds, and that the package has to be done and submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation by September 15," he said.

But Ada stated the current priority is the finalization of the government of Guam’s 2010 budget, which he called a "valid priority" since all local government agencies are dependent on that document which must be finalized by August 28.

Speaker Judi Won Pat said that if the budget issue can be resolved quickly, there may be a few days in the end of August where legislators can begin to discuss the PAG issues.

Won Pat added that she and her colleagues are taking the approval of the port master plan seriously, noting that the opportunity to vote on the plan "depends on how long individual senators want to discuss the budget."

The legislative speaker averred, "I understand that PAG missed out before, a time where they could have received funds," recalled Won Pat. "They didn’t know then, but they know now."

Board chairman Mesa cited Governor Felix Camacho’s visit to Washington, D.C. in 2006 to request for US$76 million in funds for the port. He was informed by officials in the nation’s capital, basically, he was too late.

Mesa said PAG "learned from that scenario." The chairman explained that afterwards PAG received "whatever crumbs remained," adding, "Now, we know how the game is played in Washington…we have to work two to three years ahead. We ca not be going there [D.C.] at the last minute requesting for monies," he said.

"In order for the plan to get on the floor it needs to get out of committee first. I can’t vote until then. We have to wait for the committee in order to act," said Sen. Ben Pangelinan, whom PAG officials described as "focused" on the local 2010 budget.

The former speaker clarified that he is not a member of the committee where the conditional master plan is currently awaiting action.

Leon Guerrero admitted to collective responsibility for the present situation.

"We got into this situation because we were not able to sustain ourselves. We are interested in sustaining ourselves," he said about the imposing strategy the authority has developed for the immediate and long-term future.

PAG has received and is spending US$4.5 million from USDA for buying equipment that is to be in place before the kickoff of major projects and disclosed alternative strategies that should keep the port on track if things do not currently pan out the way they would like to see them do.

"The quality of life on island has to get better," urged Mesa. "This is the plan that will make it happen. It has to be executed," he said pointing to the detailed presentation he and Leon Guerrero will continue to put before the people of Guam.

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