Guam utility costs likely to surpass budget
Stars and Stripes August 3, 2009
TOKYO — The cost of utility improvements on Guam is likely to exceed the amount the Japanese government has pledged for infrastructure needs to support the influx of U.S. servicemembers to the island, according to a congressional report released last week.
Japan has pledged billions of dollars toward the military buildup on Guam, which is to include moving 8,000 U.S. Marines and their families from Okinawa to the U.S. territorial island.
Of that, $740 million in investments and loans is earmarked for improvements to Guam’s ailing public infrastructure.
But the real needs of the island’s infrastructure systems for the overall military expansion — which will include nearly 40,000 people — may lie between $1.35 billion and $1.79 billion, according to the report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Finding more money is one of the many challenges that lie ahead for the military as it works with Guam officials to prepare for the expansion, which will increase the island’s population by 22 percent.
One solution might include creating a privately run utility corporation, similar to those that now build and manage housing in return for rental payments from the military. It’s unclear at this stage how that utility corporation might work, who might invest in the project and whether the effort would require additional federal legislation, the report said.
The overall project is estimated at about $10.3 billion and includes the additions of the III Marine Expeditionary Force from Okinawa, an Army Air Defense unit, and the ability to handle multiple three-week visits from aircraft carriers each year. The government of Japan, which has agreed to support part of the Marines’ move, will pay $6.09 billion.
The massive influx of people will require a 31 percent increase in power, an 89 percent increase in potable water produced by the Navy, and 50 percent increase in sewage treatment, the report said. Those large-scale needs are why the military should produce a comprehensive utility plan to clearly identify needs, funding sources and integration of utility improvements into other construction schedules for the buildup, the report said.
The GAO suggested the military submit the utility plan along with the overall master plan, which is due to Congress in 2010.
The GAO acknowledged that the military cannot submit detailed plans of the expansion or the utility needs until a required environmental impact statement is completed. That report is also due next year.
At the same time, the congressional report called on the military to be more transparent in its utility plans. It was one of the very few points in the report the military disagreed with.
“It is not clear what such ‘transparency’ would entail, or how the Department of Defense/Joint Guam Program Office could provide better ‘transparency,’ ” retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Bice, the military’s point man on the buildup, said in a letter that accompanied the report.
Local officials, too, understand that the lengthy process required for the environmental impact statement has made precise planning for the project difficult.
“The biggest challenge is the lack of specificity [regarding] the final buildup numbers,” Simon Sanchez, chairman of the island’s Consolidated Commission on Utilities, said in an e-mail Friday to Stars and Stripes.
Still, the island is trying to make some moves to prepare for the growth, Sanchez and others said.
The commission is working on a plan to protect its aquifer, which supplies water to most of the island’s residents and Andersen Air Force Base, Sanchez said. The local power authority is studying options for renewable energy and has been able to build a 100-megawatt reserve into its current system, according to Guam Power Authority spokesman Art Perez.
That reserve and current plants can produce, at maximum, 552 megawatts of electricity. For the expansion, a production capacity of as much as 720 megawatts will be needed, according to the report.
Currently, Guam sells electricity to all military bases on the island, and the hope is the military will invest money in the grid to continue the relationship, Perez said.
“They are our biggest customer,” he said during a phone interview Friday afternoon. “We want to keep it that way.”