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Guam projects put in doubt

Moving Marines from Okinawa to a U.S. territory has been delayed and opposed

By William Cole


The cost estimate to move 8,600 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa in Japan to Guam, and to relocate other Marines already on Okinawa, has ballooned to $29.1 billion from $10.3 billion, according to a May U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently froze funding for the move and wants the Marines and Pentagon to study it further — this after three powerful senators proposed that the Guam plan be significantly scaled back, saying it was "unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable."

The United States and Japan, meanwhile, acknowledged on June 21 that a 2014 deadline for the move is not feasible amid Japan's inability to move forward on Okinawa regarding a replacement for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is part of the deal to move Marines to Guam.

If any of this makes Honolulu-based contractor Denny Watts nervous, he isn't letting on.

The president of Watts Constructors is one of a handful of prime contractors and dozens of subcontractors with millions in Guam work at stake at a time when the construction industry can use it most.

"I can't really fathom, with all the money that (the U.S. and Japan) have put into this, somebody all of a sudden just saying, ‘Well, yeah … let's not do it, or go do something different,'" Watts said.

Watts added, "We see the program still moving forward — not as fast as we would like to see or as fast as the Navy had planned or forecasted, but we keep bidding the work."

The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, like many others, is uncertain what lies ahead with the big Guam plan.

Charlie Ota, the chamber's vice president for military affairs, said some Hawaii businesses established branch offices on Guam with the expectation of lots of work with the relocation.

"How they are doing, I don't know," Ota said. "I think maybe a lot of them may be sweating right now. Who knows what (new Defense Secretary) Leon Panetta may do?"

In May 2010 four companies with Hawaii ties were among a group of seven selected to compete for up to $4 billion in construction projects primarily targeted to building up Guam for the Marines' move.

<t-2>Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific awarded the contract for anticipated construction to CNMS, a Joint Venture, Honolulu; Core Tech-AMEC-SKEC LLC, Honolulu; DCK-ECC Pacific Guam LLC, Clairton, Pa.; Guam MACC Builders JV, Honolulu; Hensel Phelps-Granite-Traylor Pacific JV, Greeley, Colo.; Kiewit-Mortenson Joint Venture, Kapolei; and Tutor Perini Corp., Sylmar, Calif.<t$>

To date, $183.2 million has been awarded from the $4 billion maximum multiple award construction contract, the Navy said. Up to $1 billion in project awards is coming up.

Watts Constructors is part of the joint venture Guam MACC Builders with Obayashi Corp., Healy Tibbitts Builders and Webcor Builders.

In September the Navy awarded a $158 million contract to Watts Webcor Obayashi for the construction of a new naval hospital on Guam, and an $86 million contract to Guam MACC Builders for wharf improvements at Apra Harbor, Naval Base Guam.

"We've already seen on Guam a number of local vendors and subcontractors from Hawaii that are starting to (appear) down there — so it's not just with the big prime contractors," Watts said. "This whole thing, as it moves forward, will reach out and touch a lot of businesses in Hawaii."

Watts estimates there are a half-dozen subcontractors working on his projects on Guam. "They draw both workers from Hawaii and Guam," he said. "A lot of them are field supervisors, that type of thing."

Japan and the United States reconfirmed on June 21 the commitment to move 8,600 Marines to Guam, and to complete relocation projects in Japan and on Guam not by the old deadline of 2014, but "at the earliest possible date after 2014."

"It is critical that we move forward with the relocation of Futenma and construction of facilities in Guam for the U.S. Marines," then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at the talks.

But when a replacement facility on Okinawa can be built for Futenma is unclear. Both the Marine Corps presence at Futenma, and the plan to build a replacement facility where 10,300 Marines would be based, are unpopular with Okinawans. As of 2009 the United States had 45,000 service members stationed in Japan, 24,600 of them on Okinawa.

Kerry Gershaneck, an adjunct professor at Hawaii Pacific University with more than 35 years of experience in Asia-Pacific security issues, said the plan for moving Marines to Guam "was poorly conceived and even more poorly drafted."

Gershaneck, who also is congressional and public affairs officer for the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, also said that "details of the Marine move appear to have been determined at random without any thought for operational or strategic effects."

The U.S. and Japan also reaffirmed June 21 that the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam is "dependent on tangible progress toward completion of the replacement facility" on Okinawa.

Japan previously committed $6 billion for the Marine Corps relocation on Okinawa and Guam, which, according to the GAO, could now cost $29.1 billion.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in Japan reported that the abandonment of the 2014 deadline "means there is a strong probability the (Futenma) facility will remain in its current location indefinitely."

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia and former secretary of the Navy, said on his website that the "extensive delay" in completing the Futenma replacement underscores the importance of resolving basing realignments in a "more realistic manner."

The Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Webb is a member, approved in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act the requirement for the Pentagon to look at moving Marines from Futenma to Kadena Air Base, and relocating Air Force assets from the base to other bases in Japan or to Guam.

Webb, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said in May the planned realignment of forces in South Korea and Okinawa was "unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable."

Webb is advocating a "stripped-down" Marine Corps presence on Guam and rotating units into and out of Guam from home bases such as Marine Corps Base Hawaii or Camp Pendleton in California.

In the meantime, the Guam construction projects continue to move forward.

"Just because politicians say we should do something different, you don't know whether or not that's for political purposes or there's some huge change in the works," Watts said. "But right now we keep seeing jobs met, projects being planned and big commitments of dollars that are out there for the future."

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