HAGATNA, Guam — The federal government is rethinking where to put a Marine base on Guam now that fewer Marines will be moving to the U.S. territory from Okinawa, Japan.
With fewer troops and families to house, a local Marine base could be smaller than previously thought, Joe Ludovici, the executive director of the military’s Joint Guam Program Office, said Wednesday.
The base might fit in locations that were ruled out in previous studies, he said.
“So what we are going to try to do this summer, before we start the actual EIS process, is identify what the potential alternatives are,” he said, according to the Pacific Daily News.
The military will seek public input on the issue, he said. New draft and final environmental impact statements will be released in 2014. A decision on where to put the base and firing range would come the following year.
The changes could also lead to a new proposed location for a firing range.
Under the new plan, 5,000 Marines and 1,300 dependents will move to Guam. The old plan included 8,600 Marines and as many as 12,000 dependents.
The military had been planning to build the Marine base on about 680 acres of civilian land in Dededo, in northern Guam.
The firing range was to go on the site of an ancient village, Pagat, also in northern Guam. The Navy began reevaluating this idea last year after a lawsuit alleged it had failed to adequately consider other locations that would affect the environment and historical sites less.
Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo said the announcement by the joint program office provided “clarity” on the Marine move. But it also created “ambiguity” and left questions unanswered about the future of some buildup commitments — including funding for infrastructure Japan was to have provided, he said.
Much of the infrastructure funding was offered because the Marines were moving into northern Guam, where the water and wastewater system are already at capacity.
However, now that it’s uncertain where the Marine base will be built, the future and purpose of the infrastructure funding is unclear, Ludovici admitted.
Despite the funding ambiguity, Calvo said he thought the revised, smaller buildup would be healthier than the “hyper growth” that was expected under the original buildup plan.
Government estimates had priced the old buildup plan at somewhere between $10 billion and $23 billion, but the new buildup is supposed to cost about $8 billion. At one point the old buildup was expected to add as many as 79,000 people to Guam’s population of 170,000.
“It would have been a stretch on our social, economic and political fiber in this community. And also on the environment,” Calvo said. “With this more stretched-out time table … it allows for an easier transition for the military forces to move to Guam.”
The U.S. and Japan initially agreed on the plan to move the Marines in 2006. The deal was part of a broader arrangement designed to tamp down tensions in the U.S.-Japan defense alliance stemming in part from opposition in Okinawa to what many view as a burdensome U.S. military presence.
But the two nations have struggled to implement that plan amid opposition in Okinawa to a part of the deal that would keep a strategically important base — Marine Corps Air Station Futenma — within the prefecture.
U.S. lawmakers have meanwhile expressed concern about the high cost of boosting the military presence on Guam, a U.S. territory about 1,500 miles south of Tokyo and 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii.