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Military buildup impacts subject of top official’s visit

By Steve Limtiaco HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 23, 2010) - The president’s chief environmental adviser yesterday said the Obama administration is committed to getting an environmental impact statement for the pending military buildup that adequately describes the impacts and how to address them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in February called the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the buildup "environmentally unsatisfactory," and said the buildup will make the island’s existing water problems worse. The military plans to transfer 8,000 Marines and their dependents to a new base on Guam by 2014.

"We are here to hear from Guam residents and leaders about the concerns they have, the issues they have," said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, during a brief press conference yesterday afternoon outside the University of Guam’s marine laboratory. "We are here as a federal family to listen to what the people of Guam have to say."

The council oversees the environmental impact process.

The delegation didn’t want to hear from all residents, however.

Local "stakeholders" were selected last week and they met secretly with Sutley and the delegation late yesterday afternoon in a large lecture room at the university’s business and public administration building.

The Pacific Daily News and other Guam news organizations were denied access to that meeting, which wasn’t announced or open to the public.

Community groups at the meeting were: We are GuÃ¥han; Fuetsan Famalao’an; Sanctuary Inc.; the Guam Chamber of Commerce; the Guam Contractors Association and the Guam Youth Congress. Representatives from more than a dozen federal and local agencies also attended.

Before the meeting, Sutley attended a presentation at the nearby Water and Energy Research Institute, during which hydrogeologist John Jensen explained where Guam’s groundwater comes from and how much water can be safely pumped from the northern aquifer each day.

"Mother Nature has endowed this island with a really incredible water resource," he said, and conservative studies show as much as 80 million gallons of water can be pumped a day "without having to take extraordinary measures to protect the water" from salt contamination.

Additional water sources could be developed farther north, he said, in the Andersen Air Force Base and Agafa Gumas areas.

The aquifer is water-soaked limestone on a bed of volcanic rock. In some places, a layer of fresh water floats above a layer of salt water. In other areas, there is only fresh water sitting on top of volcanic rock, with no risk of salt contamination.

Jensen said the amount of water Guam needs could change in the future, based on public policy.

As an example, building codes could require greater water efficiency, he said, and increasing the price of water could deter wastefulness. Another possibility is to offer tax incentives to residents who install water catchment systems, he said.

The delegation’s visit is evidence the Obama administration takes Guam’s concerns seriously, said Office of Insular Affairs Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta, who traveled with the group yesterday.

Sutley said the president recognizes Guam’s vital role in national security, and said the military’s work here should also benefit the people of Guam -- a "one Guam" policy -- and residents won’t be unfairly burdened.

Sutley’s two-day Guam trip wraps up today, beginning with closed-door briefings on the Navy Base Guam, a meeting with the governor, aerial and bus tours of the island, a tour of the northern district sewage treatment plant, and a meeting with Guam lawmakers.

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