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Guam governor seeks to slow pace of military influx

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 30, 2010) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said yesterday that he respects Guam Gov. Felix P. Camacho's request to U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to delay the implementation of the military buildup in Guam beyond 2014.

Camacho wrote Mabus a letter on Thursday, asking him that all Guam military buildup programs be "delayed to beyond 2014 to protect the integrity of the III Marine Expeditionary Force and ensure that impacts are minimized to our island infrastructure and socioeconomic services."

Fitial, whose administration is looking at the military buildup as an opportunity to boost the CNMI economy, said he respects Camacho's position on the buildup, which aims to relocate U.S. Marines from Okinawa, Japan to Guam.

The US$15 billion to US$20 billion military buildup in Guam includes the construction of military training ranges on Tinian, two-thirds of which is leased by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Because Guam cannot accommodate all training for the relocating Marines, the military looks at Tinian to provide opportunities for training groups of 200 Marines or larger due to greater land availability. Tinian is about 100 miles or 160 kilometers away from Guam.

"If the governor of Guam and its people feel that there is a need to delay its implementation, then that is a position rightfully reserved for them. Therefore, Governor Fitial does not intend to write a separate letter to Secretary Mabus. It is important to recognize that without a buildup in Guam, there would be no anticipated impact on the Commonwealth," said press secretary Angel A. Demapan when asked for comment on Camacho's request.

In his two-page letter to Mabus, Camacho said Article 2 of the Guam International Agreement clearly states that the U.S. shall take necessary measures for the relocation of the U.S. Marines, including funding for projects to develop facilities in Guam.

"I believe that a request for an extension would help lessen the impact of the military buildup on Guam. In fact, during our village workshop on Jan. 20, I expressed my intention to ask the United States to consider extending their deadline for the buildup. The extension will greatly impact every area of public concern. It will lessen the pressure currently being placed on our people to accommodate a significant influx in our population," said Camacho.

He said in order to ensure that the Guam military buildup program is fully implemented as planned, he asked that the Adaptive Program Techniques as identified in the draft Environmental Impact Statement be used to extend the construction phase of the program.

Camacho said this will enable Guam to be better prepared for the impacts associated with the Marine relocation while protecting the integrity of the III Marine Expeditionary Force.

"I believe that this request is consistent with the Guam International Agreement signed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japan Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone on Feb. 17, 2009," he told Mabus.

Mabus was one of ranking U.S. military officials to visit Saipan and Guam last year.

Camacho said there is support of the relocation of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and overall support for the U.S. armed services.

"However, we must not overlook the reality that we have a fragile territorial economy, posses a limited amount of financial resources and lack the capacity to absorb the impacts of 20 years worth of growth in a five-year time frame," he said.

The request for delay comes at a time when the CNMI and Guam are preparing comments on the 11,000 pages of documents on the military buildup's draft Environmental Impact Statement. The deadline for submitting comments is on Feb. 17.

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