South Pacific

/ January 6, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The proposed relocation of thousands of Marines and other military personnel to the Pacific island of Guam is raising tensions between the military and Environmental Protection Agency over who will pay for efforts to avoid negative environmental consequences as a result of the influx, sister publication Defense Environment Alert's Stuart Parker reports this week:

Local lawmakers are also worried that the military has not properly considered the implications of the repositioning program, with inadequate resources being dedicated to new infrastructure, including waste disposal.

Sources with the DOD Joint Guam Program Office (JGPO), which oversees the buildup, confirm they are now in talks with EPA over funding issues after EPA Region IX official Eric Manzanilla wrote by e-mail to JGPO head Gen. David Bice Nov. 13 warning that other government agencies would not be able to compensate if DOD fails to adequately fund activities to offset the impacts resulting from the increase in personnel and infrastructure. DOD says it is addressing some land issues related to the buildup, but does not specify what commitments it may make to offset environmental impacts.

Manzanilla, Communities and Ecosystems Director with Region IX, told Bice “we believe it is very unlikely that the government of Guam or other federal agencies will acquire all the resources to adequately address impacts that go beyond the military’s fencelines in Guam.”

Significant infrastructure-related impacts are expected from the massive buildup, with particular effects on the island’s drinking water supply and waste handling, sources say.

“Guam and the other U.S. Pacific Territories lag behind the rest of the nation in many socio-economic parameters, including environmental infrastructure,” Manzanilla says in the e-mail, warning of the possible emergence of “two Guams,” one military and adequately provided-for, and the other civilian and lacking resources.

In his e-mail, Manzanilla invites Bice to participate in a high level meeting to discuss funding infrastructure upgrades on the island. A spokesperson for JGPO could not confirm Bice’s commitment to such a meeting, but issued the following statement: “the Department of Defense is working with EPA, as well as other federal regulatory agencies such as U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services and ((the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration)), to address environmental issues associated with the military realignment.”

. . .

In a Dec. 19 letter to Defense Environment Alert responding to questions on the military buildup, Guam Senator Judith Paulette Guthertz (D) cites anticipated problems resulting from the environmental impacts of the military buildup, primarily pointing to fresh water supply and waste issues. Guthertz will chair the new Committee on the Military Buildup and Homeland Security in the Guam Legislature, which was to begin its session on Jan. 5.

“The military’s buildup plans primarily concern northern Guam where our aquifer, a water lens ((reservoir)) below ground level, is located. One of our concerns in the north is the possible negative impact on our water supply through ground contamination,” says Gutherz.

A Government Accountability Office report released last September found that the Defense Department had developed a basic framework for the military buildup on Guam but had not issued the congressionally required master plan that was initially due.

A separate GAO report released in May calls on the Navy to plan ahead for voyage repair capabilities in Guam that will be impacted by the cadre of vessels the service aims to locate there by 2012.

-- John Liang