Robert Work, deputy secretary of the Department of Defense, greets service members on Aug. 20 after speaking at Naval Base Guam. (Rick Cruz / Pacific Daily News)
The Pentagon’s second-highest-ranking civilian official yesterday said there’s momentum to move forward with plans for the military buildup on Guam.
By February 2015, the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the buildup will be released and there will be no more changes to the plan, Undersecretary of Defense Robert Work said yesterday at Naval Base Guam.
“This place is going to hum,” Work said. “No matter what our budget is ... Guam is absolutely central to our plan.”
Work was referring to Guam’s role in the U.S. military’s “rebalance” in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes relocating U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
Work is on a weeklong trip that includes visits to U.S. military bases in Japan and South Korea. He came to Guam after a stopover in Hawaii.
Work’s Guam visit came several days after the Defense Department submitted its buildup master plan to Congress.
The U.S. Senate required the master plan as a condition for lifting the freeze on hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funding to build a new Marine base on Guam and related facilities.
Guam officials said Work’s visit and the submission of the master plan are signals the buildup is gaining steam.
“With him at the helm, I’m confident the movement of Marines from Okinawa to Guam will help — not hurt Guam,” Gov. Eddie Calvo said.
Calvo joined Work yesterday when the undersecretary visited the island’s seaport, which years ago was identified as a potential chokepoint for construction materials for the military buildup.
Port Authority of Guam General Manager Joanne Brown said the Port’s facilities, with federal funding, have improved significantly since those concerns were raised.
“I don’t see the Port of Guam as a chokepoint,” Brown said.
The Defense Department has provided $50 million, administered through the Maritime Administration, for upgrades to the seaport’s facilities.
Brown said the Port’s facilities hadn’t had a major renovation for close to half a century before the funding became available.
Brown said the bulk of that money has been committed to Port projects that are ongoing, in the process of getting started, or have been completed.
Brown also is asking for Work’s assistance in getting the Port Authority’s $18 million grant request approved.
The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant would be used to renovate Hotel Wharf and add 500 feet of additional wharf space.
“The project is shovel-ready as soon as funds are identified,” Brown said.
“The island is fortunate to have a friend like Secretary Work. ... I want to thank Secretary Work for moving the military buildup in a responsible manner that protects both the nation’s security and Guam’s interests,” Calvo said.
Sen. Tom Ada, chairman of the Guam Legislature’s committee on infrastructure and maritime transportation, said Work’s visit indicates that the buildup will soon commence.
“The missing pieces, i.e. master plan, the supplemental draft environmental impact statement, are falling in place,” Ada said.
Sen. Frank Aguon Jr., chairman of the Legislature’s committee on U.S. military relocation, also believes that the buildup is gaining momentum.
“As a supporter of the military buildup, I am pleased that our military counterparts continue to listen to our people,” Aguon said.
The extended public comment period on the supplemental draft environmental impact statement, which spells out a downsized version of the buildup plan, was completed last month.
The document details a leaner buildup, with a price tag of $8.6 billion. Japan is paying $3 billion of the tab.
The revised buildup plan also requires no additional private or local government property, unlike the original plan.
Work said the Defense Department is using existing military land, mostly within Andersen Air Force Base property, to lighten the impact on the local community.
The Defense Department also decided to shift the type of Marines who will be relocated to Guam to mostly single Marines rather than Marines with family members to ease the impact to the host community, he said.
The original buildup plan had a bigger cost of $10 billion, and would have moved 8,600 Marines and about 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam.
The revised buildup plan sparked local concerns because of a proposed safety zone for a new firing range that would limit access to the adjacent Ritidian wildlife refuge.
Work visited the area along Route 3 in Dededo, where the proposed Marine base and housing facilities are expected to be built, within the Finegayan military housing area.
China visa waivers
During yesterday’s visit Work also talked about Guam’s efforts to secure visa waivers for tourists from mainland China.
He said he supports it, but it might not be called a visa-waiver program.
The government of Guam is seeking Work’s support because national security concerns were raised during GovGuam’s previous requests for a visa-waiver program for mainland Chinese tourists.
Speaking to service members at the Naval base, Work said the buildup on Guam and the broader U.S. force movement in the Asia-Pacific aren’t meant to suppress China.
The United States wants China to succeed economically and encourage China’s rise in a peaceful way, Work said.
Rebalance to Asia
The Pentagon has called the move of additional troops to Guam part of the “rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.”
But given the recent turmoil in Europe and the Middle East, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander, U.S. Pacific Command, said at a press briefing on July 29 that there may have to be a “re-look” at U.S. force posture given the changes in how the world is seen today compared to five years ago.
Locklear was responding to a question about whether the rebalance of forces to the Asia-Pacific region would be affected by recent developments in Europe, such as the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet that killed everyone on board.
“The question of whether it will impact the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific or not ... I don’t think along those terms that it’s a have or have-not. Our forces are globally deployable no matter where they’re stationed,” Locklear said. “I don’t get the sense that we’re backing away from the Asia-Pacific rebalance because of other events that are occurring in the rest of the world.”