U.S. HOUSE OKS $303 MILLION FOR GUAM BUILDUP

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GOP lawmakers back defense spending bill

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 27, 2011) – About $303 million of military construction on Guam has been approved by the House of Representatives, pushing Congress one step closer to funding the foundation of a Marine base and a large expansion at Andersen Air Force Base.

Thursday, the House passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2012 -- an omnibus defense spending bill -- which includes funding for large-scale military construction on Guam.

The bill will now move to the Senate, where debate is expected to begin in mid-June, according to Delegate Madeleine Bordallo's office.

"The bill contains important provisions to ensure that the military buildup on Guam benefits our community," Bordallo said in the release.

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2012 also includes a 1.6-percent pay raise for all military service members, which would take effect if the bill becomes law, according to Bordallo's press release.

If approved in the Senate and signed by President Obama, this bill would pay to jump-start construction of the Marine base in Dededo's Finegayan area and install utilities at the Andersen Air Force Base North Ramp, which will be used for Marine air operations.

The Finegayan and North Ramp projects are funded at $77 million and $78 million, respectively.

These facilities are some of the most crucial projects needed for the military buildup, which plans to bring about 8,000 Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam in the coming years. Buildup timelines have been delayed, but the House approval yesterday shows that at least some lawmakers still support the central buildup projects.

However, the majority of the military construction proposed in this omnibus spending bill has nothing to do with the buildup. The bill also includes funding for about seven Andersen expansion projects -- totaling about $150 million.

These projects include facility upgrades that will support fighter jets and bombers that rotate through Guam, according to Pacific Daily News files, including a hangar that will move aircraft repairs out of military facilities facing troublesome weather.

Other projects include training facilities at Northwest Field, an air-freight terminal complex and a combat engineer facility.

Infrastructure

Independent of military construction spending, this bill also includes about $33 million to fund civilian infrastructure projects that are needed because of the buildup.

This funding would be only the first installment of hopefully much more funding, said Eddy Reyes, director of the Guam Buildup Office.

Reyes said the $33 million will partially fund these projects:

•New school buses and a new maintenance facility;

•A cultural repository, as promised in the programmatic agreement;

•An expansion of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse;

•A Centers of Disease Control and Prevention lab; and

•An expansion plan for Guam Memorial Hospital.

Gov. Eddie Calvo's administration has asked Congress to spend $1.8 billion on 54 civilian projects, including new schools, police stations, a hospital expansion, a new prison and airport upgrades.

Water transfer

The omnibus spending bill approved by the House removes a controversial requirement that the Navy be allowed to join the voting membership of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities if the civilian and military water systems merge.

This requirement surfaced in February, when a proposed fiscal 2012 budget said that the Navy could work toward relinquishing its water system to the Guam Waterworks Authority, but only if GovGuam paid fair market value for the system and the Navy joined the CCU.

Chairman Simon Sanchez has said GWA can't afford to pay fair market value for the Navy system and Navy Undersecretary Robert Work has said national security concerns prevent the military from releasing the water system.

Senate

The bill now moves to the Senate, where it may face opposition from some politicians who believe the buildup is too expensive.

Earlier this month, Sens. John McCain, Carl Levin and Jim Webb proposed an alternative buildup plan that they hope will replace the "unaffordable" plan proposed now.

Thursday, Webb said there is an urgent need to address these cost concerns in the "current appropriations cycle."

The alternative plan proposed by the senators would still disassemble Futenma Marine Air Station, but instead of sending air operations to Camp Schwab, it would send them to Kadena Air Base, another base in Okinawa.

Marines would still move to a new base in Finegayan, but they would mostly be deployed operational Marines, who would come to Guam without their families. Also, the senators plan would shift some airmen from Kadena to Andersen, which they felt is underutilized.

Thursday, the senators released additional statements about their plan, insisting that a recent study by the Government Accountability Office has shown that the Department of Defense has no definite cost estimate for the base realignment plans.

"The GAO report underscores our concerns," Levin said in the statement. "Certain projects in Korea, Japan and Guam have gotten to the point that it is clearly in the best interests of our countries, and in the best interests of sustaining and furthering our strong alliances, to re-examine these plans and adjust them to fiscal, political and strategic realities."

"The GAO report provides a solid justification with the concurrence of the Department of Defense that we need to take a pause in the use of taxpayer funds for these initiatives until we have a better understanding of the cost, strategic value to our national security interests, and the interests of our allies in the region," McCain said in the statement.

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