Guam Needs Infrastructure Upgrades To Facilitate Buildup

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Report focused on utilities, port, police, fire and education sectors

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 19, 2013) – The reliability, capacity and age of much of Guam’s public infrastructure — especially island utilities — indicate a need for additional upgrades to meet current and future demands related to the realignment, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) Dec. 17 report to the U.S. Congress.

For GAO, deficiencies and regulatory compliance issues hound Guam’s utility systems despite investments made to improve Guam’s public infrastructure in recent years.

Even with these improvements, GAO said, "many deficiencies and regulatory compliance issues continue to exist."

GAO said Guam’s water and wastewater systems present problems with respect to compliance with federal regulations.

It also said that fire and police departments have staffing and other shortages that affect their ability to serve Guam’s population.

GAO reported that Guam’s existing utility systems are operating "at or near maximum capacities and will require infrastructure improvements to meet any increase in demand."

GAO looked into eight public infrastructure sectors on Guam: (1) electric power; (2) water and wastewater; (3) Port of Guam; (4) solid waste; (5) law enforcement; (6) fire department; and (8) education.

Guam is susceptible to power outages

GAO said that Guam’s electric power system has experienced reliability problems.

It also reported similar concerns raised by Guam Power Authority (GPA) officials and in findings of the Department of the Interior Inspector General that "Guam is susceptible to power blackouts."

GAO underscored this reliability issue as it pointed out five major power outages on Guam: Nov. 3, 2010; May 9, 2011; June 4, 2011; June 6, 2013; and July 11, 2013.

It also said that a quarter of GPA’s generation units were installed over 35 years ago.

But to replace the aging infrastructure will require a large financial investment, said the GAO report.

Despite these concerns, the GAO report acknowledged that GPA recognized the need for upgrading the infrastructure by securing $206.5 million in bond financing in 2010.

Even with these investments, GAO said GPA acknowledged reliability concerns continue to plague the utilities agency.

But the concerns raised by GPA are the same concerns that the Department of Defense (DoD) may have as GPA provides electricity to both the civilian population and the Department of Defense on Guam.

DoD is GPA’s largest customer accounting for 22 percent of the utility agency’s revenue.

The GAO report also stated that GPA officials admitted that even though it has enough capacity to meet the Department of Defense’s realignment needs for electricity generation, some of the units are not operational without major repairs or improvements which will likely have to be made by GPA.

GAO said GPA officials reported that improvements to the transmission system — additional substations and transmission lines — will need to be made to accommodate the revised realignment plan.

Deficiencies in water and wastewater systems

Water and wastewater system problems add to the uncertainty.

The GAO report reported that the water and wastewater systems on Guam face deficiencies due to natural disasters, poor maintenance and vandalism.

The potable water system alone is facing non-compliance citations in connection with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

GAO cited an Environmental Protection Agency report that potable water facilities on Guam are in poor operating condition due to minimal preventative and corrective maintenance actions.

The same report also said that Guam’s water loss rate is about 50 percent, which is way above the national average of 14 percent.

GAO echoed a DoD Inspector General report that the existing wastewater plants "do not meet primary treatment standards and lack sufficient capacity due to the poor condition of the existing assets."

The report said that the Guam Waterworks Authority (GWA) provides wastewater services to Andersen Air Force Base including Northwest Field, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station-Guam and South Finegayan Navy Housing.

It said Naval Base Guam handles all its wastewater needs while both the Navy and Air Force get their potable water from their own wells and the Fena Reservoir.

On Guam, DoD accounts for 2.2 percent of GWA’s fiscal year 2012 revenues.

Port of Guam is outdated

Meanwhile, the Port of Guam has problems of its own.

GAO reported that ports authority and DoD officials said that the "Port of Guam is currently outdated, in need of repairs, and requires expansion in order to support the realignment."

The GAO report raised concerns about the port wharf.

It referenced a 2012 DoD inspector general report that showed the structural integrity of the commercial wharf was at risk of failure.

This was due to lack of adequate repairs to damage caused by the earthquakes, corrosion, and stresses from ships and cargo-handling equipment, the report said.

It also mentioned DoD’s report of "multiple continuous defects" at the wharf.

GAO said that both the Department of Defense and the Government of Guam agree that the Port of Guam is a potential choke point when realignment moves forward as all materials needed for both military and public construction projects will be transported to Guam by sea and enter through the port.

To accommodate the realignment plan, port officials said the port requires building modifications, facility expansion and significant structural integrity improvements to the wharf.

The GAO report mentioned that DoD provided Guam $50 million so it could address the requirements of realignment.

The ports authority is engaged in seeking additional funding so it can make the necessary improvements to the port.

But if the realignment requires more than the ports authority’s planned upgrades, the ports authority said there may be a need for federal support so it can meet the increased capacity requirements.

Solid waste operation is environmentally compliant

Despite other infrastructure needing upgrades and improvements, the GAO report recognized that Guam’s landfill is environmentally compliant "with sufficient capacity to meet current solid waste disposal needs and has sufficient expansion capacity to meet future needs related to the realignment."

This was a huge improvement considering that Guam’s public solid waste operations were placed under receivership due to Ordot facility’s violation of the Clean Water Act.

Subsequently, the receiver opened a new public landfill with the closure of the Ordot Dump.

The GAO report said that historically GovGuam and DoD used separate solid waste facilities, with the Guam government using the Ordot Dump while DoD used its landfills at Andersen Air Force Base and Naval Base Guam.

But these landfills are near full capacity and DoD has begun sending its solid waste to the new public landfill.

Shortages mar other infrastructure

The GAO report noted that Guam’s public health system is undersized for the population it serves and has been experiencing shortages citing as an example that the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority — the only public hospital — is often at overcapacity.

It shares the same staffing shortages with the Guam Police Department.

GAO reports, "The Guam Police Department is experiencing deficiencies in infrastructure, vehicles and staffing."

The fire department is in a similar predicament.

The Guam Department of Education is in the same situation as it faces shortages of certified teachers, school buses, and other assets, due to budget constraints.

This GAO report was mandated by the U.S. Congress Conference report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 to evaluate public infrastructure projects on Guam needed in support of Defense’s plans.

DoD’s $1.3B cost estimate not reliable

GAO said that the $1.3 billion cost estimate by the Department of Defense relating to improvements to Guam’s infrastructure is not reliable.

"The $1.3 billion cost estimate for improvements to Guam’s water and wastewater systems that DoD has used to support budget requests for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 is not reliable," said GAO.

In its assessment, GAO said the estimate minimally met the best-practice criteria for a reliable cost estimate.

The GAO report said that new estimates must be made in view of the reduced number of Marines and their dependents relocating to Guam.

At the time the estimate was made, the U.S. was looking at following the 2006 Roadmap that called for the relocation of 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependents to Guam; however, the revised plan adopted in 2012 called for the transfer of 5,000 Marines and 1,300 dependents to Guam.

"We determined that this estimate is not reliable because it does not include all relevant costs, is based on limited data, and, as documented, lacks many of the key characteristics to be considered a reliable cost estimate," GAO said.

GAO’s recommendations

Pending the completion of the supplemental environmental impact study and the record of decision, DoD will not be able to finalize comprehensive public infrastructure requirements and cost estimates for the Marines’ relocation from Japan to Guam.

GAO recommended revalidation of the need and scope of Guam public infrastructure projects included in the DoD budget requests based on the reduced number of Marine and dependents moving to Guam.

It also recommended a comprehensive analysis across all applicable public infrastructure sectors to determine what infrastructure requirements and costs are needed to address currently existing deficiencies in Guam’s infrastructure and what requirements and costs are needed for additional capacity in support of the realignment plan.

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