Anxiety levels up for local officials on Guam
June 27, 2006
HAGATNA, Guam — Sen. Tony Unpingco, like many others on this South Pacific island, is getting a little anxious about the 8,000 U.S. Marines coming to town.
It’s not that the longest-serving elected legislator in Guam and the head of the military affairs committee is against the increase of armed forces here. He and many other local leaders are proud the military chose Guam and are thankful that $10 billion to $15 billion in government money will be spent here.
Unpingco and many others just want to know one thing when it comes to moving Marines from Okinawa to Guam: Will local leaders get a voice in the planning, or will they have to sit back and watch as the Pentagon puts most of that money behind military fences?
“I’m apprehensive, simply because I’m not a part of it,” Unpingco, R-Santa Rita, said during an interview this month about the preparations for the thousands of Marines, family members and workers who will begin moving here in 2008. “I’m a little bit afraid as to what they are planning right now,” he said.
Guam has a little more than 150,000 residents, according to the last U.S. Census, and about 6,500 servicemembers in uniform are stationed on the island, according to military officials.
The Marines’ arrival would more than double the military presence, but it also will spark a short-term construction boom and a long-term population growth, local officials say. Most are excited to take advantage of this economic boon, but they’re also concerned about making much-needed improvements to their schools, power lines, health care, roads and sewage systems to meet the demands.
And they are anxious to know how this military money — a mix of Pentagon budgeting and Japanese grants and loans — might help with that, according to interviews with Stars and Stripes during the past two weeks.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel Leaf, the deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Command, visited the island in late May and is planning another visit for early August. Last month he said that most of the military’s investment will be on base, but the buildup also will have benefits for Guam’s infrastructure and people.
“I know there’s frustration in the community about how much information they don’t have,” Leaf told Guam’s Pacific Daily News on May 24, as he explained that the exact location was unknown for a $1 billion road connecting Andersen Air Force Base in the north with Navy property in the middle-western part of Guam.
“There should be mutually beneficial outcome from the investment on [Department of Defense] property,” the general said then.
Dave Lotz, a former sailor and retired Guam Park Service worker who now leads hikes on Guam, wants to know more about that road because he guesses it will run by, or perhaps through, a couple of his favorite hiking spots.
“We don’t know,” he said. “It’s this uneasiness of not knowing what will happen.”
That lack of knowledge, however, hasn’t stopped people from talking about the improvements that Guam needs.
Guam’s Homeland Security adviser, Frank Blas Jr., has been holding weekly breakfasts since January with government and community groups to brainstorm the island’s needs because of the impending move. Blas said he understands the military needs time before it announces specifics, but he wants his “quality-of-life” focus groups to be prepared with proposals when those details start to emerge.