GUAM MILITARY BUILDUP DOWN TO 4,700 MARINES

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Less troops may result in faster process, less expenses

By Arvin Temkar

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 10, 2012) – Two local officials confirmed yesterday that the military buildup in Guam will shrink to 4,700 Marines.

Arthur Clark, Gov. Eddie Calvo's director of policy, said he was given the official number by Navy Undersecretary Robert Work in a conference call. Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said in a press release that she, too, expects that number after her discussions with the undersecretary.

"This actually has the potential to accelerate the plans to move forward with the development," Clark said. "It will be on a smaller scale, but it will start the process. It will allow the process to move forward."

International news reports cropping up over the last few days have cited anonymous sources or Japanese officials on the lowered Marine number, but this is the first on-the-record acknowledgment from U.S. officials.

The exact laydown and mixture of the forces has yet to be formalized, Bordallo said. The military is considering making some of the Marines coming to Guam rotational forces.

Bordallo said she "strongly disagrees with those who suggest a rotational presence is a viable option."

Land

If the Marine transfer shrinks as Bordallo and Clark expect, it is likely the base planned in Finegayan will shrink, too, and that less private land will have to be acquired by the military.

Currently, the defense department plans to absorb about 680 acres of Ancestral Lands Commission property along Route 3 in the Finegayan area. The property was formerly controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The ancestral land, on which the military plans to build family housing, would become about one-third of the new Marine base. The other two-thirds of the base property already are controlled by the military.

However, during a meeting Wednesday, a buildup official said that if the Marine numbers become smaller, the Finegayan base will probably become smaller also. Joe Ludovici, executive director of the Joint Guam Program Office, told lawmakers that he could not confirm a reduction in troops, but he "assumed" that such a reduction would decrease the "footprint" of the Marine base.

If the Marines brought to Guam are a rotational force, as the military is considering, there might be fewer Marine families coming to Guam because rotational troops won't bring their families, the governor's office believes. If the numbers of Marines and Marine families who live on the Dededo base decrease, the military most likely will need less housing at the base. This housing is set to be built on the ancestral land the military hopes to acquire.

Yesterday, Guam Buildup Office Director Mark Calvo said it was likely a reduction of Marines would result in a decrease in the amount of land acquired by the military, but the extent of this decrease won't be known until GovGuam has details about the composition of the Marine force. Details haven't been released, but they are essential to calculating how many Marine dependents are expected, Mark Calvo said.

Economy

In the long run, even a reduced buildup will have a significant impact on the economy, said Gary Hiles, chief economist at the Guam Department of Labor.

Though there will be fewer people than originally expected, meaning less tax revenue, the economy will have grown from its current state. The big boom will come during the construction period, he said. There's already $1 billion waiting to be spent on the buildup, Hiles said.

But even if the buildup gets under way soon -- a possibility now that progress is no longer linked to a plan to relocate a military base in Japan -- the island shouldn't expect to see an immediate economic boost, he said.

Construction contracts already are in place for the next year or two, and new projects will have to be designed and approved before being rolled out. Significant economic activity, primarily in construction, will begin one or two years after the buildup begins, Hiles said.

Infrastructure

"Not having to deal with such a huge amount of growth is probably a good thing," said Simon Sanchez, chairman of the Consolidated Commission on Utilities.

A smaller number of troops will mean less strain on infrastructure, he said. Even so, utilities agencies, such as the Guam Waterworks Authority, still will be in a good position to negotiate improvements. The CCU expects that the Department of Defense and Japanese government will pay for troop impact, Sanchez said.

The best way to pay for the impact is to invest it wisely, he said. For example, Guam's wastewater treatment plants need to be upgraded anyway. The arrival of the military will be a chance for the federal government to help pay for these upgrades -- plus the upgrades should be less costly, considering a smaller number of troops.

Mandates

Before the buildup can begin, though, congressional mandates must be met, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb said yesterday in a statement.

"These requirements are directly tied to defense funding. They must be met in order to ensure a comprehensive analysis before moving forward," he said.

The first requirement mandates that the commandant of the Marine Corps provide his preferred force laydown for the Pacific region.

Second, the Defense secretary must commission an independent assessment of U.S. security interests, force posture, and deployment plans in the Pacific region, Webb said. Congress has yet to officially receive the Marine Corps plan, though the study is required to be provided by the end of March.

The Defense secretary must report his findings to Congress within 90 days of receiving the study, Webb said.

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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