05 January 2010

The Real Story Behind the Guam Military Buildup


by Koohan Paik


Guam, a possession of the United States, is one of 15 islands in the Marianas, an archipelago in the western Pacific so pristine and rich in biodiversity that it was recently designated a federally protected Marine National Monument. However, military activities are exempt from this so-called “protection” and the Department of Defense has plans to effectively destroy the natural habitats of these islands with the “Guam Military Buildup,”slated to take place over the next five years. Guam, an island only half the size of Cape Cod with a current population of 178,000, will soon become home to 80,000 additional Marines, dependents and laborers. The military already owns a third of the island, and the Marines aren't the only unit expanding. The Army, as well, is building a missile defense system; the Air Force is adding more drones; and the Navy is tearing out 2.3 million square feet of a healthy reef ecosystem to make way to house a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Though the people of these islands are being told that the Buildup will improve their quality of life, the facts show otherwise. Below is a handout being distributed among the people of Guam and the Marianas to shed light on the reality of how the Buildup will impact their islands.

The Military Buildup being planned for Guam and the rest of the Mariana Islands chain is being sold to us as a once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity. But if you read the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) put out by the Department of Defense, it quickly becomes clear that this is far from the truth. And if you know your Pacific history, it is a simple connection of dots to see that the Buildup will likely be as cataclysmic for our people and environment as the atomic testing at Bikini was for the Marshall Islands. Below are a collection of facts taken from the Draft Environmental Statement released November 20, 2009:


Myth: The military buildup will be great for Guam’s economy.

Fact: The military’s DEIS document states that very little money will go into Guam’s economy. According to the report, most contracts will go to large off-island companies, not to local contractors. Most money spent by the 80,000 newcomers will be spent on base, at companies also based on-island, not at local businesses. The 40,000 low-paid workers imported from the Philippines will not spend their money on Guam, but will send most of it back home.

And don’t think that Guam residents will benefit from an increase in construction jobs. According to the DEIS, at the projected 2014 peak in such jobs, only 2,566 will go to Guam residents, while 15,157 will be taken by off-island workers.

In addition, the military conducted a separate report which revealed that the cost of living will rise, but wages will remain low too low to keep up with skyrocketing costs. Guam Housing Urban Renewal Authority Executive Director, Benny Pinaula, does not feel the buildup will help keep housing affordable.

How will GovGuam fare during the buildup? The costs to the Government of Guam associated with the buildup will be $2.9 Billion dollars. But GovGuam officials are uncertain as to how those projects will be paid for.

Guam Senator and local industrialist Eddie Calvo explained that the buildup will cost millions of dollars to maintain roads, to upgrade wastewater treatment and by taking revenue from the port. Calvo recently wrote that the $50 million appropriated for roads within the 2010 Defense Budget is “a drop in the bucket to what is required to expand the roads and harden bridges to handle the thousands of containers and workers that will be arriving on island.”

Calvo also pointed out that EPA has ordered the local government to spend nearly $300 million dollars to develop secondary wastewater treatment facilities. Though the military will ultimately be end-users of the northern facilities, it appears that the local government will bear the brunt of the upfront costs, resulting from EPA’s edict.

According to Calvo, it has been discovered that commercial cargo has been shipping out of the Navy side of the harbor. If this trend is a prediction of things to come, this may cost the local government millions of dollars in lost revenue in the future.

To sum things up, the military build up will NOT help local Guam businesses, will NOT provide a boon in construction jobs, will NOT be an economic boost for local Guam residents, and will cost Guam's government millions of dollars. The fact that the DEIS was written by big defense contractors in Hawaii, not Guam, indicates where the money will go, and it is not to you and me.


Myth: The Guam Military Buildup is a “done deal.”

Fact: The Military Buildup is NOT a “done deal," as the Pacific Daily News would have us believe. There are many variables that need to take place in order for it to happen.

The buildup depends on what Japan decides to do. The U.S. is relying on Japan building an additional base on Okinawa in order for the troops to transfer from there to Guam. They are also depending on Japan to kick in $6 billion to help fund the buildup. However, Japan doesn’t want to build another base and it has been questioning the exorbitant expenses of the buildup, such as $775,000 per housing unit. Japan could make a decision that significantly delays the buildup, or even prevents it entirely.

Especially since the economic downturn, the Pentagon, too, has been uncertain about the expenses of the buildup (see this article from as recently as May 2009: "Pentagon Reconsiders Pricey Guam Move" at http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0509/050709cdam1.htm )

The powerful Heritage Foundation, an ultra-conservative, rightwing think tank, has been behind this buildup from the start, and has been steadily lobbying Congress to spend the billions of dollars it will take to make it happen. The Heritage Foundation takes the “Manifest Destiny” view of America, that it must rule the world, rather than share the world. And yet, in December 2009, a Pew Research Center study showed that almost half of Americans think that their country should “mind its own business internationally.” No doubt, these people would be opposed to the idea that $15 billion in their tax dollars is going to the Guam buildup, devoted to the military domination of another hemisphere. If these people were even aware of the buildup, let alone if they knew where Guam was, they would object to their Congressional representatives’ greenlighting the buildup. So far, less than $1 billion has been appropriated for the colossal project. There is no guarantee that the remaining $14 billion plus will come through.

So, it isn't a "done deal" after all. It is a future that can be shaped by the strategy and foresight of the people, starting at the grassroots.


Myth: There will be no problem supplying water to 80,000 new people on Guam. All we need to do is drill 22 more wells.

Fact: False. Twenty-two new wells will deplete our freshwater source. If there were enough water for that many more people, the DEIS would not have listed a desalination plant as a long-term solution. Desalination plants have adverse effects on the environment; and building one would make the people of Guam dependent on the military for the most basic resource for life – water.

If there were enough water to go around, the military would not consider the development of Tolaeyuus River (“Lost River”) in Santa Rita, either, to augment the water supply during the dry season. This would entail dredging the reservoir area of the existing dam, and installing a pump station and pipeline. Another scheme listed in the EIS is a comprehensive dredging of Fena Lake to increase capacity. Dredging equals more environmental devastation.

The DEIS makes no guarantee of water for the estimated 260,000-plus people to be on the island. So when you run short of water, as too many of us already do in Agat, Santa Rita, Piti and Asan, just remember the old Navy saying: "The needs of the Navy come first".


Myth: People living on the base and civilians will live together harmoniously, as “one.”

Fact: The buildup will create three distinct classes: 1) the military, who will be given expensive homes and good salaries; 2) the local people, who will be marginalized as second-class citizens and 3) 40,000 “temporary workers” who will be housed in barracks.

Billions of dollars are slated to be poured into construction inside the fence, while THERE ARE NO PLANS TO SPEND ANY MONEY OUTSIDE THE FENCE, except for road construction (not maintenance). There will be no money to help the current systems deal with infrastructure inadequacies or the expected rise in crime.

The difference between “inside the fence” and “outside the fence” will be more evident within our education system than it already is. There is already a big difference between the quality of education between the DODEA schools for the military kids and that of local public schools. Now, the DEIS tells us to expect a 20% increase in enrollment in the civilian public schools. With no supplemental funding to enable the public schools to absorb this huge influx of students brought by the military buildup, the disparity in education between civilian and DODEA schools will resemble the segregated schools of the Old South. The shameful separate-but-equal ethic is already alive and well on Guam, and will thrive further if the military buildup is allowed to take place.

Medical care and other social services will share similar problems. While military personnel on-island will receive better funded care, the thousands of additional people will overwhelm Guam’s already stressed medical and social services.

Meanwhile, who will monitor and enforce the labor laws governing the island’s temporary workers, most of whom will be from the Philippines and the Federated States of Micronesia? There is already a problem regarding huge human-rights and labor abuse on Guam. Human-rights violations will most likely get worse, without adequate monitoring or enforcement. In addition, the idea that these workers are really “temporary” is a myth. Studies show that the vast majority of workers who migrate to the states from the Philippines, even on temporary visas, stay, and create families. Do not expect a population reduction after the buildup.


The huge surge of young single males, both Marines and laborers, along with the disparity between haves and have-nots, will lead to an increase in crime, fights, alcoholism, rape and prostitution. According to the DEIS, the buildup will also cause an increase in drug smuggling, due to the increased flow of goods and legal and illegal immigrants into Guam. Currently, the drug methamphetamine is already readily available on Guam, due to a steady supply from the Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and South Korea.


As pointed out by University of Guam Professor of Social Work ,Dr. Gerhard Schwab, social services cannot keep up with current demands. He says that currently, “children in private and public child welfare organizations experience neglect and abuse… hard-working families do not have the health care and family support they need to care for their elderly and sick family members … our best local social service professionals leave Guam because of poor working conditions and/or lack of support and resources for their work.” And that is the way things are now.

If the buildup is allowed to go forward, troubles will get worse. The workload will double, while no money or resources are being appropriated to deal with these gigantic, foreseeable problem social problems.

Peter Sgro, president of the Guam Healthcare Development Foundation, says 500-600 additional doctors, nurses, technical, management and administration professionals will be needed on Guam, should the buildup take place. Where will they come from? Guam’s civilian hospital already has the lowest patient-to-bed ratio of anywhere in the U.S. and no funding in sight. Meanwhile, $259 million was appropriated in December 2009 to build a brand new Navy hospital – open only to military personnel and their dependents. The injustice of this neo-Apartheid system will be made all the more evident by the small size of the island, which will force the haves and have-nots to live uneasily side-by-side.


Bottom line: More people, less land. Get ready for a road system that will be a constant traffic jam of construction trucks.The military is eyeing an additional 3,900 acres to take. That’s about one and a half times the size of Barrigada. This would include the FAA property, which was supposed to have been given back.

Regarding population increase: at first, the DOD told residents that the buildup would increase the population by 40,000, though they were always aware that the figure was really 80,000 -- double that! Unfortunately, no one told the people of Guam until the last possible moment – the day the EIS was released (November 20, 2009). Why did they wait so long? Maybe because they knew how upsetting this information would be.

Currently, the cap on H-2B temporary workers allowed to enter the country is only 66,000 for the entire United States. But on tiny Guam, that cap for such workers has been lifted. Instead of protecting the island from a surge of migrants, the government is encouraging a dangerous population spike. Clearly, no consideration was given to living conditions, resources or infrastructure on Guam. All that is considered important to project planners is to get the military facilities up and running – no matter what are the human, social or environmental costs.


According to the Draft EIS, the transplanted Marines will not have an impact on Guam's overall crime and social order. Instead the report blames migrants from the Federated States of Micronesia as the likely cause. This blatantly racist mindset behind the planning of Guam’s future is deplorable and goes against everything America stands for.

And racism will continue to flourish as the buildup’s planned social stratification takes hold, with predominantly Caucasian military personnel living in the most comfort inside the fence, while Pacific Islanders live outside the fence in lesser conditions, or outright squalor. It is tragically ironic that people native to the region are the ones to be relegated to the worst housing, the worst education system, the worst medical facilities, and the lowest wages. As 80,000 new people are dumped on Guam to fall into their preordained caste in this new “planned community” of Apartheid, the Buildup will exponentially accelerate the denigration of Pacific Islanders in their own land.


Most of the four- and two- lane roads in the north will be widened to six- and seven-land highways. The greenery in the north will be removed, not just for road work, but to house many of the 80,000 new people. One hundred acres of jungle will be replaced by a camp for tens of thousands of low-wage laborers. More jungle will be razed to make way for the luxury military homes. These homes will be soundproofed to protect those inside from the noise of the new landing pad. Local homes just outside the gate will not have such sound protection.


Aside from the harrowing noise of helicopters coming and going, the racket of weapons firing from the firing range will plague much of the island. A 2000 study from Asahikawa Medical College shows that aircraft-noise exposure resulted in a range of physical and mental consequences including sleep disorders, hearing loss, higher rates of low birth weight infants, fatigue, neurosis, and negative effects on children.


According to the impact study, “There are several recreational resources that the public would lose the access to, and the use of the features if the proposed action were implemented: Guam International Raceway, Marbo Cave, Pagat Trail and associated trails near it, cultural gathering activities (suruhana), and off-shore fishing near Marbo Cave.”

The DEIS spends chapters detailing their plans for creating "recreation space" for their dependents. They go on about how important it is to make sure that there is lots of "wide, open, green space" within their neighborhoods. In the mean time, they are taking away OUR recreation space. They are lessening the wide, open, green space in OUR neighborhoods. And what does the DEIS say to try to make things better? It actually says we should replace our outdoor culture with indoor physical fitness centers, and indoor recreational resources such as bowling, skating rink, youth center, theater and recreational pavilion. Do they really think that bowling is an acceptable substitute for traditional fishing practices? Can they really be that culturally insensitive? And even if people wanted to go bowling instead of fishing, what makes them think local people would be able to afford such diversions, as the cost of living skyrockets against their low wages?


As 80,000 newcomers create waste and stress on our utilities and roads, the local people must cope with the burdened electrical system, continual road maintenance, limited water supply and thousands of tons of additional sewage. As mentioned earlier, funding for the Guam Buildup does not include any financial support for infrastructure outside the fence.


The DEIS states that cultural heritage sites to be destroyed or compromised include locations at Apra Harbor, Anderson AFB, Orote Field, Anderson South, and a sizable portion of land south of Route 15. As described in the report, a parcel of land at Anderson Air Force Base that is rich in archaelogical artifacts will be subject to “100-percent disturbance.” In addition, it warns of increased vandalism at the historical coastal site of Haputo, rich with latte stones.


The limestone forest that stretches from Marbo Caves to Pagat Caves is being considered for use as a firing range, where the military can practice shooting and bombing. The land belongs to several families who have been caring for it for decades, choosing to not develop because they prize the land for its inherent values. Their efforts to keep the land pristine have made it more desirable for the military. The site in Pagat is registered at the Department of Historic Preservation as an archaeological site.


This holy mountain, where thousands of island residents pilgrimage every year on Good Friday, is also being considered for use as a firing range. This is disrespectful of local Chamorro traditions.


Amount of reef to be dredged: 2.3 MILLION SQUARE FEET. That’s the equivalent of 40 football fields!  That’s to make way for the berthing of a nuclear aircraft carrier, the largest ship in the Navy’s fleet, carrying 85 aircraft. It will bring 5600 additional people to Guam, ported 63 days a year. Having it will be terrific for local tattoo parlors; disastrous for nature. The sediment churned up by the dredging will kill the coral that is not plowed up and the fish population. According to Manny Duenas, president of the Fisherman’s Co-op, the dredging will “affect Guam in itself because we know the fish don’t just live in one area.” Brent Tibbatts, fisheries biologist at the Guam Department of Agriculture, explains that “there have been things found in Apra Harbor that have been found growing nowhere else in Guam.” One of those things are 6-foot brilliant blue elephant ear sponges that stand out among the common mounds of yellow, brown and green coral. It is rare for a busy port to be teeming with marine life like Apra Harbor, Tibbatts said. Most of the ports of the Pacific have barren sea bottoms, not lively ecosystems.

Many of the organisms in Apra Harbor will be buried during the dredging, according to the Draft EIS. Some will survive and seek new homes elsewhere in weeks or months, the document states. Other colonies of fish that are attached to their territory -- like damselfish, clownfish and butterfly fish -- will die. The draft EIS also states that ship traffic and dredging will create "short-term" disruption in the birthing area for scalloped hammerhead sharks. The sharks give birth directly in the carriers' path into the wharf, the draft EIS states. Although the adult hammerheads spread to waters around the island, Apra Harbor is the only place they consistently return to give birth.

If the dredging lasts more than a year, it could easily disturb two breeding cycles for the sharks, Tibbatts said. Since they only give birth to a few babies a year, local populations will be affected. "It would not be easy for them to replenish the population if something impacts their ability to pup," he said.


The dredging at Apra Harbor will destroy the mangrove forest there.


The green sea turtle, the Hawksbill sea turtle and the Spinner dolphin, all protected by federal law, will be wiped out in Apra Harbor. We are trading endangered species and their ecosystems for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.


The ifit tree is the official tree of Guam, traditionally used as timber, for fuel wood and craftsman art. The termite-resistant hardwood has completely disappeared from some parts of southeast Asia already and is increasingly harder to find on Guam. Construction eyed for Finegayan at Andersen South, and a firing range would decimate the critically-endangered ifit trees, says the DEIS. The construction would also require the removal of dukduk trees, a traditional resource used by canoe builders.


The hundreds of acres of jungle to be destroyed or contaminated contains native plants used in traditional medicine. To destroy these plants is to destroy Guam’s Chamorro heritage.


The total amount of hazardous waste produced by the increased military presence will equal 8 tons per year! (according to the DEIS). The DEIS refuses to disclose all of the toxic and hazardous materials they will be storing; this is most likely because they are radioactive and banned from the shores of most countries. Our island is still in the process of decontaminating land and removing toxic materials left behind by the military; and many older generations of Guamanians suffer from an abnormally high cancer rate resulting from previous exposure to radiation by the military.


What little reef resources are left may be quickly depleted by the underpaid foreign workers who tend to comb the reefs for food.


The Guam Buildup does not affect only Guam. It will have grave, irreversible consequences for the entire island chain. The military does not see the Mariana Islands as a biodiverse treasure of natural wonders that the U.S. has even designated a protected Marine National Monument (“protected” from everyone except the military). Rather, the military sees our islands as a gigantic shooting gallery, which they’ve aptly re-named the Mariana Islands Range Complex (MIRC). Don’t they know that regular people live here—people who have been caretakers of the culture and environment for millennia? But that is not their priority. As far as they’re concerned, Guam will be where the soldiers will live; the MIRC will be their enormous playground where they will learn how to destroy life. The DEIS even describes the Mariana Islands as “deficient,” for lacking enough live-fire ranges. In other words, the military sees our archipelago home as useless unless it can be bombed.

The MIRC area will encompass about 501,873 square nautical miles to include open ocean, coastal areas, surface and underwater. The combined land area on Guam, Rota, Tinian, Saipan, and Farallon de Medinilla to be used for training areas and facilities will be about 64 nautical miles, and approximately 63,000 nautical miles of airspace will be designated as Special Use Airspace. Surface and underwater areas, according to the study, will “extend from the waters south of Guam to north of Pagan and from the Pacific Ocean east of the Marianas Islands to the middle of the Philippine Sea to the west.”

Already bombing practice occurs routinely on Farallon de Medinilla, an island not long ago prized by locals for its excellent fishing. Now it is off-limits and contaminated, worsening by the day. Stopping the Guam Buildup will “cut off the head of the snake” that would otherwise kill or severely diminish the celebrated reef and land ecologies of the rest of the archipelago. According to the Population Reference Bureau, only 30% of Guam’s natural habitat remains. But that sad statistic is not shared by the rest of the islands in the chain, still plentiful in biological diversity.


The spectacularly beautiful and ecologically rich island of Tinian would be hardest hit, if we let this happen. Tinian is home to many endemic species, including the Tinian Monarch, an endemic bird. The DEIS explains that the military intends to use two-thirds of the island to routinely conduct many hazardous activities, including live-fire training (which leaves behind depleted uranium and other highly toxic materials), various pyrotechnics and detonations both on land and underwater, and amphibious landings (heavy, lumbering tanks crushing the thriving reef as well as destroying the sea-turtle nesting areas on the beach). As the DEIS explains, Tinian is “capable of supporting Marine Expeditionary Unit aviation events such as ground element training and air element training, simulated evacuations of noncombatants, airfield seizure training, expeditionary airfield training, and special warfare activities.”

No species will be left undamaged. These activities will decimate one of the healthiest and most biologically diverse marine ecosystems on the planet, thus also destroying an important food source for its Pacific Island inhabitants.

Tinian groundwater endangered

The DEIS also warns that “groundwater aquifers on Tinian are also vulnerable to contamination by substances introduced onto the soil surface because the thin soils and underlying permeable limestone does not significantly impede the passage of contaminants to the shallow aquifer.” We can only imagine what heavy metals and other carcinogenic and hazardous materials will be seeping into the groundwater as military war games are routinely conducted all over the island.

In addition to the destruction caused by bombs, tanks, planes, ships and nuclear and hazardous wastes, the islands will also suffer from opportunists “cashing in” on the sudden inflow of a large demographic of single males looking for “rest and relaxation.” As on Guam, we can safely predict a rise in prostitution, illegal drugs, and crime. On Rota – pristine and undeveloped; an authentic “tropical paradise” -- the construction of two hotel-casinos are in the works, in anticipation of the Guam Buildup becoming a reality.

As you can see from these facts presented in the military’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Guam Buildup is a recipe for nothing short of social and ecological disaster. Please do what you can to stop it. Here is an interesting observation from blogger Dave Owen (http://www.guamblog.com/):

“The Draft Environment Impact Statement (DEIS) wasn’t written to protect Guam. It was written to protect the U.S. government from criticism once things go wrong on Guam. The U.S. will say that the 11,000 page DEIS is evidence of its great concern and care for Guam. It’s just the opposite. It’s a pile of data and observation dumped on the island far too late, and Guam has been given precious little time – just 90 days – to respond to it. The buildup, as the DEIS illustrates, impacts every aspect of the island; the environment, land use and development, schools, health care, crime, roads -- the sum of Guam’s quality of life. With the DEIS in hand, Guam’s government must now prioritize the buildup’s impact and then prepare mitigation strategies. It’s a Manhattan Project-sized task and one that’s impossible to complete in the amount of time available. Guam can rest assured that the U.S. will use the DEIS as its defense when things go wrong: We prepared you, Guam.”