Lifting Of Guam Funding Freeze Included in U.S. Appropriations Bill

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House and Senate pass bill without restrictions to spending on buildup

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 16, 2014) – The lifting of a nearly four-year freeze on spending the bulk of military buildup funds on Guam remains intact in the defense spending bill that gained Congress' approval over the weekend.

The final version that passed the Senate Saturday, Guam time, retains language from the House of Representatives to leave out previous fiscal years' restrictions on spending military buildup-related construction, the Senate and House Armed Services Committee stated in a joint explanatory statement. The statement accompanies Congress' final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2015.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo's office also confirmed yesterday that Guam provisions in the defense spending bill remain intact as the legislation went through a final Senate vote.

Over the past few years, the Senate had turned down House versions of the defense spending that lifts the freeze on major buildup funds, including money that Japan has contributed. Japan has turned over to the U.S. government $1 billion out of its total $3 billion commitment to help move 5,000 U.S. Marines out of Okinawa and relocate them to a new Marine base on Guam.

The defense bill caps the cost of moving the Marines from Okinawa to Guam at $8.7 billion.

The Obama administration is expected to sign the bill into law, as it has previously issued a statement of policy opposing funding cuts for the buildup. The administration has stated that such cuts could place "Japan's financial commitment (to the Marines' Guam relocation) at risk."

Now that both the Senate and House are on board with the buildup funding, there's renewed optimism on Guam that the buildup green light may be just around the corner.

Economist Joseph Bradley, a senior vice president at Bank of Guam, is among those whose confidence in the buildup may have been regained.

"Since both Houses of Congress have passed the budget ... and it is likely that the President will sign it, it looks like it is a 'go,'" Bradley stated.

The buildup plan, as detailed in the final supplemental environmental impact statement, is expected to be released about two months from now, said Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work when he visited Guam earlier this year.

"I don't think the SEIS has to get anyone's approval outside of the Department of Defense, so perhaps they can finally get things started," Bradley stated. "I just hope that they proceed at a controlled pace."

In 2010, a bigger buildup plan would have resulted in seven years of intense construction boom to move 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependents to Guam. An initial, downsized buildup plan released in April this year would require a more moderate construction time line over 12 years, the draft supplemental EIS states.

The military's revised preferred alternative includes building the Marine base on existing federal land in Finegayan, Dededo, near Andersen Air Force Base. The proposed Marine live-fire training range complex and family housing for the Marines will be within Andersen's fence, but a safety buffer zoner for the firing range could restrict public access to a portion of the wildlife refuge and beach access at Ritidian, the preliminary buildup plan shows.

The Guam provisions in the broader defense spending bill includes such items as a $162 million military construction spending authorization.

Within that $162 million, two projects worth $50 million combined would pay for the Marines' aviation facilities at the North Ramp area at Andersen Air Force Base, according to budget and Defense Department documents. These projects are part of a plan to have dedicated Marine aviation facilities at Andersen separate from the Air Force aviation facilities at the base's South Ramp area.

The entire defense budget would cost $577 billion, including a 1-percent pay raise for military personnel instead of a previous 1.8-percent annual pay hike.

Military personnel's housing allowance would also see a 1-percent decrease under the defense spending bill.

Restriction

There's a Guam spending restriction that remains in the defense bill.

Funding for public infrastructure projects that will be undertaken by the government of Guam, including for power and wastewater projects, remains on hold.

"While the NDAA does lift restrictions on the use of U.S. and government of Japan funds for the realignment, it does not authorize civilian infrastructure projects," Bordallo stated.

Sen. John McCain, who's expected to be the next Armed Services Committee chairman, "and other fiscal conservatives, continue to have concerns about the use of DOD funding for civilian infrastructure projects that are directly tied to the military mission," Bordallo stated.

The Senate believed authorization of funds for civilian infrastructure projects was premature, Bordallo stated.

"I will continue to work to support DOD funding for civilian infrastructure projects, but I believe that greater involvement by Gov. Calvo is necessary to move this issue forward and to help overcome Sen. McCain's objections," Bordallo stated.

Defense Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment John Conger visited Guam recently.

The Defense Department continues to do its due diligence as part of confirming the direct and indirect impacts of the buildup to the civilian infrastructure on Guam, hence the visit, said Consolidated Commission on Utilities Chairman Simon Sanchez. Sanchez will end his CCU chairmanship in January with the recent selection of former Revenue and Tax Director Joey Duenas as chairman, but Sanchez will stay on as commissioner.

"Buildup funding has ebbed and flowed during the past years," Sanchez said.

One of the projects the Guam Waterworks Authority wants DOD to pay for is the construction of a secondary wastewater treatment plant near the proposed Marine base location in Dededo. That project has been estimated to cost almost $100 million.

"We all agree that the new Marine base, if connected to GWA's infrastructure, creates an impact," Sanchez said. "We continue to document that impact to ensure it's accounted for by ultimate decision makers."

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