Guam Lawmaker Wants Navy Water System To Offset Compact Impact

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Cruz considers lawsuit to compel full payment of hosting migrants

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 24, 2014) – The Navy's water and wastewater systems should be turned over to the government of Guam to offset $300 million of Guam's cost of hosting regional migrants, Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz urged in a recent letter to the federal government.

Cruz brought up the issue in light of recent confirmation that the Navy increased its water rate by 40 percent last October, raising the possibility that Guam's water customers islandwide could end up paying more -- on top of the 17 percent water rate increase Guam Waterworks Authority implemented.

"In the absence of clear federal action to unify our water processing systems, I will work with my colleagues to authorize, fund and file a federal lawsuit compelling the full payment of Compact costs already acknowledged by federal law," Cruz wrote, in part, to the Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs on Dec. 21.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2011, which became Public Law 111-383, provides language allowing for such transfer of Navy's water and wastewater systems to GovGuam, Cruz wrote.

"The Secretary of Defense may convey to the Guam Waterworks Authority, ... all right, title, and interest of the United States in and to the water and wastewater treatment utility systems on Guam, including the Fena Reservoir, for the purpose of establishing an integrated water and wastewater treatment system on Guam," the federal law states.

The defense spending law also states that, in lieu of cash, the Defense Department's secretary "shall consider the value of in-kind services provided by the government of Guam" to regional migrants from the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Under the Compact of Free Association agreements by the FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands with the United States, their residents can relocate to U.S. soil, and many of them have decided to live on Guam.

"This provision permitted the offset of unreimbursed Compact costs owed to the Government of Guam with the $300 million that would otherwise have to be remitted for the cash purchase of the Fena reservoir," Cruz wrote to Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Esther P. Kia'aina, who grew up on Guam.

When Kia'aina visited Guam in October, she acknowledged that Guam's $16.8 million share of annual $30 million compact-impact funding from the federal government to host regional migrants isn't enough.

GovGuam's estimated cost of services provided to migrants from the FSM, Palau and the Marshall Islands between 2004 and 2012 was $559.34 million, according to a federal report last year.

Kia'aina did acknowledge during her recent Guam visit that the spending-cuts mindset in Washington, D.C., would make it unlikely for Guam to see a new big check for hosting regional migrants. Instead of expecting a bigger check, Kia'aina suggested Guam may push for offsets with money that the federal government owes to the local government.

Cruz stated he hoped Kia'aina's public statements regarding Guam's right to "reimbursement" for providing public services to regional migrants "reflected a meaningful shift in administration policy."

Cruz also voiced concern on the changing of the leadership in Congress, which could lead to GovGuam suing for federal reimbursement.

"The fact that an ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party will now hold great sway in both Houses of Congress," means full cash reimbursement to Guam for regional migrant services is unlikely, Cruz stated.

Sen. Frank F. Blas Jr.'s re-election to the Guam Legislature and the recent election of Judge Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson as the island's attorney general "will provide Guam the critical mass necessary to resolve this matter with every available legal remedy," Cruz wrote. During Blas' previous term, he called for the federal government to pay the full cost of Guam's public services to regional immigrants.

"Guamanians will, regardless of our immediate differences, remain a proud and patriotic people, but no one should mistake that patriotism for weakness in the face of a clearly unfair federal policy," Cruz wrote.

About 56,000, or nearly a quarter of the citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau now live in the United States, and Guam hosts 32.5 percent of the regional migrants, a federal report shows. The island nations' citizens are granted entry into the United States in exchange for defense access to the island nations.

GWA has been buying water from the Navy's Fena reservoir during times when islandwide supply falls short for the southern villages of Agat and Santa Rita. GWA's water supply to the rest of the island comes primarily from the northern aquifer.

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