Guam hurdles put Okinawa housing in limbo
Stars and Stripes August 2, 2009
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — U.S. bases on Okinawa are in the midst of a home remodeling boom, with 3,745 housing units being renovated at a cost of $678 million over the next 16 years.
It is part of a total $2.6 billion budgeted for housing projects. But there’s a hitch: A plan to raze 3,241 older units and build new structures from scratch — a project planned and funded by the Japanese government — is in limbo because no one is sure how many military families will be stationed here in the future, military officials say.
That’s because a plan to transfer some 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam in 2014 is facing new hurdles.
The Government Accountability Office estimates the cost of the move to Guam could be more than double the estimated $10.7 billion price tag. If that doesn’t scotch the project, the impending takeover of the Japanese government by an opposition bloc led by the Democratic Party of Japan could affect a plan to move Marine air operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab.
The DPJ has opposed replacing Futenma with any new airport on Okinawa.
"The Japan part of the equation — building new units — is on hold until we have a final decision on the number of military personnel to be assigned to Okinawa," said Lt. Col. David Wilder, commander of the 718th Civil Engineer Squadron, which is in charge of base housing on the island.
There are 48,490 people — military and civilian — on Okinawa under the status of forces agreement. Of that total, 11,900 live in 7,119 off-base housing units. The rest live in barracks and 8,344 family housing units spread out over eight housing areas on various bases.
As of Saturday, all newly arrived servicemembers with families will have to accept base housing when they move to the island. The goal is to boost the occupancy rate of on-base housing units from 84 percent to 95 percent.
At the moment, the Air Force is focusing on the renovation projects, Wilder said. The project began in 2002 and phases 1 to 5 of the 11-phase program are complete, with 538 units renovated at a cost of $74 million.
Phases 6 and 7 involve renovating 1,085 units at a cost of $196 million and are slated to be complete by October 2012, Wilder said.
"This modernization is giving us Tier One — absolutely the best — housing for our people," Wilder said. "We consider this a good investment — in our housing and our people. We’re trying to get the best bang for our bucks."
Renovations include upgrades to kitchens and bathrooms, recessed lighting, updated electrical service and landscaping. Some units will get 100-square-foot additions off the kitchen area.
"They also have new HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, which will allow residents to control (their) own heating and cooling," Wilder said.
After 2012, phases 8 through 11 will begin with the renovation of an additional 2,122 units at a cost of $408 million, Wilder said.