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TAEGU, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea is pushing ahead with its plan to return 30,000 acres to South Korea’s government. As a consequence, some quality-of-life improvements may be slowed or put on hold, say U.S. military officials.

They say they’re hedging on big infrastructure investments on some installations should high-level U.S.-South Korean talks produce big changes for U.S. forces.

“We are being careful that we don’t invest money where we shouldn’t until we have answers,” said Col. Daniel Wilson, U.S. Forces Korea engineer. “That’s why you are seeing cancellations and slowdowns.”

For example, said Dennis Bohannon, KORO public affairs officer, a $16.9 million physical fitness center and a $6.72 million community activity center, both on Camp Coiner next to Yongsan Garrison, have been postponed. He said the command wants to ensure that new construction and expansion occurs on installations that will have a long-term U.S. presence.

U.S. and South Korean officials will meet May 6-7 in Hawaii to discuss U.S. military forces in South Korea, a Defense Ministry official confirmed Monday. Talks are to be centered on moving facilities at Yongsan Garrison and possibly repositioning the 2nd Infantry Division.

Last week, military commanders met in Taegu to determine how U.S. forces in the area would restructure under the Land Partnership Plan, signed in March 2002. The plan calls for compacting into 23 installations dozens of units now spread across 41 major installations. The goal, Wilson said, is to shrink the U.S. forces’ footprint on South Korean soil while maintaining readiness and allowing the return of land to South Korea.

“It’s about the biggest Rubik’s Cube you’ve ever had,” said Brig. Gen. John A. Macdonald, commander of the Korea Regional Office, the new command that deals with 8th Army’s infrastructure. “Everyone can get so miscued that we get paralyzed with new ideas. That’s why I say stay on the plan.”

The LPP provides a good framework for moving forces, Wilson said. For instance, it sets environmental standards for land to be returned and details how South Korea must replace facilities that the United States gives up.

The next steps, Wilson said, include completing the study on the future of the U.S.-South Korean military alliance, then translating that into where troops should be stationed. LPP still will be “the mechanism that we used to accomplish that,” he said. “We just need to make some modifications to the plan.”

The three-hour meeting last week, in the Area IV support group headquarters, focused on Area IV, an Army administrative region whose plans include moving Camp Hialeah in Pusan and returning part of Camp Walker’s airstrip.

The three other regions, including the 2nd Infantry Division and Yongsan Garrison, meet quarterly to determine how they’ll change under LPP, Macdonald said. The plan is to run until 2011.

It’s premised in part on efficiency, Macdonald said: Having one fire station at a larger post, for instance, is more efficient than having several at small posts.

Thrown in the mix are other Army initiatives, such as letting 25 percent of married personnel in South Korea be accompanied by their families by 2010, Macdonald said.

Across the peninsula, dozens of housing projects are being either planned or built to accommodate family members, he said. More families in turn require more support facilities, such as larger schools for more students, adequate Army and Air Force Exchange retailers and Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities.

U.S. facilities will get more compact but taller, Macdonald said. For instance, at Camp Casey, plans are under way for a six-story barracks.

Tuesday’s meeting in Taegu — which included representatives from many of the dozens of units slated to move — was to coordinate preparations for the task. As Macdonald put it, it’s like moving a small city. For instance, Camp Hialeah’s move will cost about $254 million — and it’s considered a small one.

Talks also are under way for greater changes, such as reducing the 37,000 U.S. servicemembers in South Korea. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speculated U.S. forces — about 14,000 of which are in the 2nd Infantry Division north of Seoul — could be moved farther south or removed altogether.

Rumsfeld also is revamping how U.S. forces are allayed around the world and Congress has started a new program to realign and close bases, beginning with those overseas.

Additionally, much of USFK’s construction plans hinge on what both the U.S. Congress and the South Korean government decide to fund.

The high-level talks are expected to finish by October, when the United States and Korea host an annual security meeting. Until then, Wilson said, “the rest is rumor and discussion.”

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