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Guam struggles for $$$ to fund island infrastructure upgrades

Date Posted: 2008-03-27

Guam needs money, plenty of it, to fund dozens of large scale construction projects needed in advance of the planned relocation of 8,000 American Marines and their families from Okinawa.

The realignment will boost Guam’s largely tourism-based economy from $3 billion to more than $4 billion as the military moves will swell the military population to 19,000, and boost the number of dependents another 19,000. There are now 6,400 American troops on Guam, along with about 7,700 family members.

Guam’s 170,000 residents are mostly in favor of the relocation, but worry about how they’ll be able to get everything built to support it. “We need private-sector participation because it’s too big a project for a small government and a small community,” says Gerald Perez, former president of the Guam Chamber of Commerce. “We feel like we’ve been told to upgrade port facilities, build roads and houses all at the same time,” a politician adds, “and it’s simply impossible.”

Moving 8,000 Okinawa Marines to Guam is estimated to cost $10.3 billion, with Japan’s government picking up the tab for more than $6.1 billion to cover infrastructure construction. Officials say that infrastructure involves building a water supply system, sewage facilities, family housing and barracks for the troops. Guam has already asked Japan to ante up another $3 billion to cover costs to the local civilian sector for upgrade projects.

Guam’s Governor figures that’s only fair, because “I would expect a good amount of the Special Project Entities would be going to Japanese companies.” Felix Camacho says the relocation effort is far beyond Guam’s local capability, noting Guam’s annual budget is only $450 million. He says there’s a lot of work to be done to support the massive building projects, because the 48-kilometer-long island has only one major road running from the Apra Port to the Andersen Air Force Base. That road winds through downtown Agana. ‘Camacho says the Apra Port capacity must be at least doubled to handle the increases in materials flowing to Guam.

Construction is supposed to begin in 2010, but the former Chamber leader predicts that number will wobble. “We suspect it may have to be drawn out over a long period of time,” he said, “unless we get help.” James Martinez, head of Guam’s Contractors’ Association, also predicts full blown construction may “be delayed further than 2010.”

Apart from Guam’s concerns about obtaining enough funding to make the project start-ups run smoothly, some worries are mounting that the delays in building a new military airfield in Okinawa may stall or hamper needed funding deals. The Japanese government is still wrangling with Okinawa officials over construction of a new airfield at Camp Schwab to replace the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station located in Ginowan City.

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