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Opposes land grab, urges Washington to fund port upgrade

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Feb. 24, 2010) – U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, fresh from his Guam visit, issued a statement from his office in Washington, D.C., that the United States government has an obligation to make sure that military-buildup-related changes "do not place undue stress on the people of Guam."

"Specifically, the U.S. government should recognize the needs and sensitivities of the people and the limitations of space on the island," according to Webb’s Feb. 19 statement. "The U.S. military occupies or retains over one-third of the island’s territory, and I do not believe that additional lands should be acquired.

"If they must be acquired out of a national security interest, the U.S. government out of respect for the people of Guam should seek private arrangements for use of the land and not exercise its right of eminent domain," according to Webb.

Webb is chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee and the Committee on Foreign Relations East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee.

The senator said the federal government needs "to recognize the economic and cultural stress it will place on the island’s population and fund this buildup accordingly."

"But this is not just a Guam issue. It is an issue of national strategy."

This year, the U.S. military will spend US$700 million in preparation for the buildup on Guam. In contrast, the civilian government on Guam will benefit from US$51 million in federal assistance in military construction projects to prepare for the buildup, according to Webb.

He mentioned the Transportation Department turned down a Guam application for about US$50 million in economic stimulus funding to help the island’s port pay for upgrades to make room for the buildup.

"I have already called on President Obama to fund this port project," according to Webb.

Webb added until Japan decides in May how to proceed with the relocation of U.S. troops in the middle of an Okinawan city, "we cannot move forward on the relocation of bases outside of highly populated areas in the southern part of Okinawa, as well as the relocation of 8,000 Marines to Guam."

"As we wait for a decision from the Japanese government, I am concerned that we are not realistically discussing the timeline needed to implement this relocation plan for Okinawa and Guam. The agreement to relocate forces indicates a 2014 deadline for completion of this plan--a date that has raised a lot of fears in Okinawa and Guam about how such a move can take plan when we remain at a deadlock in 2010." according to Webb.

"We need a more open discussion from civilian and military leaders on what is realistically achievable by 2014 so that the people on Okinawa and Guam can begin to make practical steps in preparation for these changes."

He also suggested Tinian in the Northern Marianas might have room for a Marine firing range instead of Guam.

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