Guam panel to discuss environmental measures ahead of military buildup
October 16, 2010
An advisory board made up of Guam officials, the U.S. military and federal agencies will meet for the first time Monday in an effort to protect the environment during a planned U.S. military buildup.
Members will monitor every part of buildup construction for problems – from invasive animals stowed in shipping crates to an overflow of foreign workers – and recommend solutions over the next four years.
The U.S. Navy approved the creation of the board last month to answer widespread worries that the transfer of 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to the island by 2014 could sap limited resources and harm the tropical environment.
Though it has no real power or funding, Guam leaders say they are depending on the 13-member advisory board to help protect some of its most important resources, including the island’s underground water supply when the military begins building a raft of new facilities early next year.
“The No. 1 issue is the contamination of our water resources,” said Tony Lamorena, director of the Guam Bureau of Statistics and Plans, who was appointed to the board by Guam Gov. Felix Camacho.
Much of the military construction will occur in northern Guam near the island’s primary aquifer, so construction runoff and pollution could be a danger to island water supplies, Lamorena said Friday.
Also, about 120,000 shipping crates will be arriving in Guam each year during the construction work and any stowed away invasive exotic animals or plants could cause environmental havoc on the island, he said. The brown tree snake, which was brought to the island by the U.S. military following World War II, has decimated native birds on Guam and become a tenacious pest.
Despite the stakes, questions remain over how much influence an advisory board with no administrative power can exert over the massive military realignment project, Lamorena said.
The board can only make recommendations, cannot enforce any changes and will get no funding, according to the Navy’s Record of Decision, which was signed Sept. 20 and includes a board charter.
Board recommendations will be given to the military or federal agencies, which are required to either adopt the recommendations or provide a written reason within 45 days of why the advice was not followed, the board charter says.
“That is something we are going to have to contend with,” Lamorena said. “What we say is primarily for advisory purposes.”
Still, board members will spend the next 90 days hammering out a final charter that will determine how the composition of the board and the details of how it operates.
Retired Col. John Jackson, forward executive director for the Joint Guam Program Office, said the board will not get any new authorities and will only deal with issues directly related to construction work.
“We are focusing on the coordination of the construction activity on the local level,” he said.
Jackson said the board will be a “clearing house for data and information” that focuses on transportation, utilities and the port, which includes security against invasive exotic animals.