S. Korea transformation complicates construction
January 27, 2004
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The U.S. Army has halted construction projects at Yongsan Garrison and in the 2nd Infantry Division area, focusing now on “enduring installations” the U.S. military plans to occupy long term in South Korea, said U.S. Forces Korea’s top engineer.
“We have been talking with the Koreans for some time now about reshaping the force here,” said Col. Dan Wilson.
Those talks have led to a USFK shift in construction plans, toward moving forces at Yongsan Garrison and consolidating the 2nd Infantry Division. Eventually, USFK officials have said, U.S. forces will relocate to two major hubs at Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek and Osan Air Base.
But the continuing negotiations pose a logistics problem: Securing military construction funding requires congressional blessing and usually takes years. A year ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered commanders to ensure their military construction requests made sense given the ongoing discussions, Wilson said.
USFK commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte analyzed every planned construction project to see if it should be kept, the engineer said. LaPorte’s “commitment to the Congress has always been that he’s only going to invest in enduring installations … we were redefining what those enduring installations were.”
Because of potential changes in where the Korean government wanted U.S. troops to relocate, in spring 2003 the Defense Department recommended canceling and relocating some projects, Wilson said, and cutting the military construction budget accordingly. Affected were fiscal 2003 construction projects that hadn’t been awarded to builders and fiscal 2004 projects submitted to Congress, Wilson said.
For example, money planned to improve Camp Stanley — a 2nd Infantry Division camp in Uijongbu — was shifted to Camp Humphreys, he said. “That’s the future for Korea,” said USFK’s top engineer. “That’s the enduring installation. That’s where we are focusing all our resources.”
The result: The U.S. Army will spend $65 million on two Camp Humphreys construction projects during fiscal 2004 — the start of a hefty expansion planned for the base, which is in a relatively rural area surrounded by rice paddies 40 miles south of Seoul.
Plans call for spending $40 million to build a 464-person barracks, a 96-person unaccompanied officer quarters, one brigade headquarters and two company operations buildings, and spending $25 million to build a 232-person barracks, battalion headquarters and three company operations buildings.
But the two barracks projects can’t be awarded to a contractor, Wilson said, until USFK shows congressional military construction subcommittees a Camp Humphreys master plan accommodating the anticipated relocations.
The congressional committees also want to see relocation cost-sharing arrangements with Korea’s government, “which we are in the final stages of negotiating,” the engineer said.
An architectural engineering firm is drafting that master plan; the intent is to finish it before LaPorte gives his annual testimony to Congress, usually in March or April, Wilson said.
“We have a very good idea of everything we need to build at Camp Humphreys,” he said. “Everyone who is moving is going to get new facilities. So … it will be a big quality-of-life difference for everyone.”
LaPorte also made a project-by-project decision on construction funded by South Korea’s government and by U.S. military agencies whose budgets come from non-appropriated funds, outside the regular military budgets, Wilson said. “Our challenge is to work all of those different funding sources together and apply them against the appropriate projects.”
The Air Force got exactly what it wanted for fiscal 2004: $68.5 million in military construction and family housing construction dollars: $45 million for family housing projects, $16.5 for a barracks and $7 million for upgraded aircraft shelters at Kunsan Air Base, Wilson said.
The command is pursuing a build-to-lease project at Camp Humphreys similar to the U.S. Navy’s in Naples, Italy, he said: The military would rent housing, schools and other facilities from a Korean developer for a certain term, thereby avoiding construction and maintenance costs.
Developers will be asked to submit proposals this spring, Wilson said. While plans aren’t firm, the military tentatively seeks a community-style neighborhood including 1,500 family housing units, schools and shops. “The Koreans go out and build whole new cities all the time,” the engineer said. “Let’s leverage their expertise.”
He attended the last round of relocation talks with South Korea’s government in Hawaii Jan. 15-16. After years of complaints about the amount of space U.S. troops occupy in downtown Seoul, officials agreed to vacate Yongsan Garrison by 2007. Under an existing agreement, South Korea must pay for such a move. No plans have been released yet on how South Korea will meet the estimated multibillion-dollar bill.
Those will come after South Korea’s National Assembly, its legislature, approves a final agreement, Wilson contended.
Despite press reports indicating tension during negotiations, Wilson described the atmosphere at all talks he’s attended as “very cooperative. It’s very open and honest. We don’t immediately agree on everything but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. We have agreed in principle on all the important points.”