CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S.-Japan agreement to drop a 2014 deadline for moving U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam might be good for the territory, according to the new director of the Joint Guam Program Office.

The lack of a firm deadline for the military buildup will provide some time for planning and preparing for the historic move, Navy Capt. Daniel Cuff said during an interview with Stars and Stripes on Friday.

Last month, Cuff took the reins of JGPO, the agency charged with coordinating the myriad projects that could eventually turn the territory into the new home of several Okinawa Marine Corps units as well as an Air Force reconnaissance center and possibly a ballistic missile shield. He spoke with Stars and Stripes about progress so far and the buildup challenges such as construction deadlines, funding and concerns that training ranges and aircraft carrier berthing could damage Guam’s environment and heritage.

Q: Last month, the U.S. and Japan acknowledged the long-held 2014 deadline for moving Marines to Guam is not possible. How will the lack of a deadline affect the buildup?

A: The relaxation of the 2014 date is, I believe, a good thing … It allows us to stretch out some of the construction sequencing and allows us to maybe step back a little bit from the amount of construction on the island. It will help us eliminate any possible [issues] with bringing in the expected workers and it will lessen the socio-economic impacts on the island.

Q: The U.S. budget is becoming a major fight in Congress and money is expected to be tight across the DOD. How important is it that Guam gets buildup funding this year?

A: Funding is always an issue with any program. DOD sets its plans, but we are at the mercy of the decision makers who hold the purse strings. Some of the buildup contracts have already been set using Fiscal Year 2010 money. We do have contracts that are pending using Japanese money. So, in the immediate future, what we expect to award and what we have already awarded are from our prior year monies, and we anticipate those efforts to continue.

Q: Japan has agreed to contribute more than $6 billion for the construction work and utility upgrades needed to move about 8,600 Marines to Guam. What has been contributed so far and do you expect more Japanese funding this year?

A: We already have over $700 million in the U.S. Treasury from the Japanese sending us money in Fiscal Year 2009 and Fiscal Year 2010. Currently, the Japanese fiscal year budget for 2011 has been approved and there is well over $400 million assigned in their budget to support the infrastructure and buildup process here on the island. So, the funding is there … and unless things change, the current funding will allow us to continue the efforts through Fiscal Year 2011 and beyond.

Q: Over the winter, the DOD and Guam signed an agreement on the controversial plan to put training ranges on the ancient ancestral land known as Pagat. Now, the DOD, which is being sued in Hawaii court by Guam residents who oppose the ranges there, has argued that no final decision on the location has been made. What is the status of that project?

A: Leadership understands the sensitivity of the training range issue here on Guam … This is an issue that is being litigated through the court system. So, as to where we currently are and the way ahead, I would have to refer you to the Department of Justice … No final decision has been made [on the location of the ranges] and that has been deferred until sometime in the future.

Q: The DOD has also put off a decision on where to build berthing for visiting aircraft carriers until more studies on coral in Apra Harbor can be done. When can we expect a decision on that project?

A: The carrier berthing is another issue that DOD and leadership understand is sensitive to the island and that’s the reason the decision has been deferred. There is an ongoing study, and I believe the study is expected to be completed in the fall. Analysis will then be performed, and I believe a report will be due out sometime next spring or summer. Then the program will proceed based on those findings … I believe we will hear something about this in spring or summer of next year.

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