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Military Buildup’s Environmental Takedown

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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By: Juliana Duran

Map of Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States. Green portions of the map represent the military bases. With added military personnel, infrastructure issues will be magnified. Photo Credit: http://www.public.navy.mil/fcc-c10f/nctsguam/PublishingImages/Guam_Map.bmp

Map of Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States. Green portions of the map represent the military bases. With added military personnel, infrastructure issues will be magnified. Photo Credit: http://www.public.navy.mil/fcc-c10f/nctsguam/PublishingImages/Guam_Map.bmp

Guam, a US territory, is an island that is no stranger to war or military presence. It first came under US control after the Spanish-American war. However, during WWII, after Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese invaded and occupied Guam.  Ultimately, American forces retook the island, and following the war Guam was once again under US control and became a territory. Since then, the US military has been present on the island (CSIS 2012). The military has been a large part of Guam’s recent history, and it continues to drive much of the decision making in the Guamanian government. Currently the Navy, Army and the Air Force each have forces on the island and all are expected to increase greatly in the next seven years.

In 2006 a policy decision dictated that 8,000 US troops would move from Japan to a new site to decrease the military footprint on Okinawa and Japan. Guam was chosen as one of the sites of relocation with 5,000 troops and 1,300 dependents scheduled to make the move (McAvoy 2010). However, there are those that feel that the small island is ill equipped to handle the influx of new residents. Due to aging infrastructure, the military buildup will greatly effect Guam’s environment and impact its people if nothing is done to mitigate this problem.

In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed the military’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). They found the DEIS to be unsatisfactory and recommended many changes (EPA 2010).

It is projected that by 2015, approximately 79,000 more people will move to Guam.   Many of these new residents will be construction workers sent to work on military buildup projects. With the population of the island at 180,000 residents, that is an increase of approximately 44% (McAvoy 2010). The large immigration of people will have a huge impact on the island’s water supply, creating an estimated shortage of at least six million gallons per day. Even if the Department of Defense is able to drill 16 new wells to improve the water supply, there may still be a shortage of fresh water. However, because of the lack of funding this increase in new wells seems improbable, and the shortage will most likely reach 13 million gallons per day, which can lead to some serious health and environmental problems for the small island.  The shortage will decrease the water pressure on the island, which can cause sewage and storm water to seep into the drinking water. Drinking water contamination can cause water borne diseases, which will affect the lower income communities the most. Water shortage will also decrease the ability of fire fighters to put out fires, putting the safety of Guam’s residents at risk. In order to ensure the safety of Guam’s residents and the future military personnel, the infrastructure on the island needs to be updated drastically and the Department of Defense must take measures to do so (EPA 2010).

Construction near Apra Harbor, Guam. Construction threatens the diverse marine species that live in the harbor as well as creates more waste that has no place to be treated or disposed of. Photo credit: Laurie Raymundo http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited/stories/guam

Construction near Apra Harbor, Guam. Construction threatens the diverse marine species that live in the harbor as well as creates more waste that has no place to be treated or disposed of. Photo credit: Laurie Raymundo http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited/stories/guam

Wastewater is also a major issue as the infrastructure of Guam continues to deteriorate. The disposal of non-potable water can be an expensive and complex issue in most communities.  In a small space like Guam this problem is compounded by the red tape caused by government bureaucracy.

The EPA states that the Department of Defense (DoD) is directly responsible for the water supply in Guam, and it is responsible for providing the resources and support to address the water shortages. The EPA recommends that the plans for the improvements begin immediately because the influx of people will come as soon as construction begins. However, these recommendations were written three years ago in 2010, and no work to improve the water and sewage systems has been undertaken. Water structures required for an adequate system include wells, storage tanks, treatment facilities, and other facilities none of which have been built. Although the EPA not only commented on the DoD’s DEIS but also gave clear and specific suggestions, the DoD and Congress have failed to implement any of the EPA’s recommendations.

Along with most of the other aging infrastructure in Guam, transportation infrastructure is also in great need of updating. The problem is so apparent that the Department of Defense was forced to add a section in the DEIS specifically addressing off-base road projects. The report, however, is not specific and only includes general descriptions of the projects. The EPA suggests that the DoD better describe the specific construction activities necessary, including the equipment needed and the impact that the building projects will have on the environment. One of the more important suggestions that the EPA gives is to specifically analyze the resource information of each of the 58 sites. It is particularly important to analyze sites close to busy places like schools and hospitals, because the roads in those areas will have higher traffic. Analysis of the sites closer to sensitive biological spots such as wetlands and habitat areas are extremely important because the EPA and other agencies do not want the military construction to have a negative impact on the environment. The EPA also recommends that analysis be done in areas that are not affected by the construction directly but may be affected indirectly such as areas downstream of construction (EPA 2010).

With the additional military construction and presence there will also be additional waste created on Guam, 16,000 lbs. of which would be hazardous. Hazardous waste disposal will be an increasing problem as the island runs out of storage and no longer has an adequate way of handling and storing hazardous waste. The DEIS is not specific regarding the disposal and treatment of hazardous waste and the EPA recommends that the DEIS should include the types and quantity of the waste as well as the plan for the construction of the facilities required for hazardous waste management. One serious type of hazardous material that is already found in buildings in Guam is polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. Because PCBs were in the paint and caulk used to build some of the buildings in Guam, many of these buildings that are over the limit set by the Toxic Substances Control Act and must be tested and demolished. Although this is a major infrastructure problem that needs addressing the DEIS does not deal with this issue (EPA 2010).

Unfortunately it appears as though congress has no plans to fund these infrastructure updates in the near future even though they are going through with the military relocation. It appears Senator John McCain is taking the lead in opposing the funding.  On March 14, 2013, Senator McCain proposed an amendment to the Consolidated and Continuing Approbations Act, which eliminated $120 million for the Guam civilian infrastructure projects. Unfortunately the amendment was passed by a voice vote much to the dismay of Guam delegate Madeleine Bordallo. She said she was “appalled that Senator McCain continues to use funding for Guam projects as an example of ‘pork barrel’ spending—he dismissed water and wastewater improvements, which are already overburdened by our island’s existing civilian and military populations, as egregious and unnecessary.” Though disappointed, Bordallo plans to continue the struggle to secure this money in the next fiscal year (Losinio 2013).

Senator McCain cited budgetary pressures for the reason to cut the spending even though a Representative from his own state just proposed a bill that would approbate $200 million in the next fiscal year for technology in Arizona, an item that can easily be called “pork barrel” spending. During the proceedings on the Senate floor, McCain brought up the military spending that President Obama cut. He used facts and data to explain just how inadequate the Department of Defense budget would be, including talking about how the so called ‘pork-barrel’ spending would effect each branch of the military. He compares the protectors of our country to the civilians of the territory, stating that money for infrastructure repair is not nearly important as other military projects. McCain says that it is premature to invest in civilian infrastructure for Guam because the operation has not yet been decided (McCain 2013). However, Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the US Pacific Command, gave a date for the transfer of troops. 5,000 troops and 1,300 dependents are set to move in 2020, and although McCain believes that we cannot spend money on infrastructure until all the details of the move are known, many environmentalist including the EPA know that is not the best move. They suggest that because basic infrastructure on the island is already outdated, Guam cannot wait until the military overburdens it to build new structures.

In a turn of events, North Korea nullified the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. The country has increasingly become more hostile, which has made the United States military in the South Pacific become increasingly more important. The United States believes that this region of the world has become unstable with the abolishment of the armistice, so it is important for the US troops to be prepared. On March 21, 2013 North Korea threatened the US military stations on Japan as well as specifically mentioning the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam (Sang-Hung, Erlinger 2013). The Department of Defense assured Guam that they had missiles to combat anything North Korea would strike with. With this new development in North Korea’s action, the US will likely look to strengthen the forces in Guam and to give more attention to the infrastructure problems.

As the Federal government continues to use an island strategically placed in the Pacific Ocean as a military base and a deterrent to the hostile governments of the region, it does so without consideration for the environmental and sociological impacts on the island and the people that inhabit it.  This seems un-American since these people never invited the United States to use it as a fortress in the first place and they are in fact now American citizens.   If the United States plans to use Guam as it has in the past, it should secure its future by providing appropriate funding and resources to ensure that the infrastructure will be in place to give the people of Guam the quality of life they deserve.  The environmental and human implications are too serious to leave to political in fighting between a candidate that ran for President and lost.  If Senator McCain is in fact the advocate for the military that he claims to be, he should step forward and be the champion for ensuring that Guam can continue to support the presence of the military for many years to come.

AUTHOR BIO: Juliana Duran is a sophomore in the Dornsife College of Arts and Letters majoring in Environmental Studies. She wishes to incorporate environmental science into the business world and ultimately open up a green business. She hopes this course will aid her in understanding other aspects of the environmental field.

Works Cited:

Losinio, Louella. “US Senate Adopts McCain Amendment, Cuts Guam Funding.” Marianas Variety. 17 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

McAvoy, Audrey. “EPA Sharply Criticizes Military’s Guam Plan, Cites Water and Sewage Problems.” Los Angeles Times [Los Angles] 23 Feb. 2010. Print.

McCain, John. “McCain Amendment: How It Went Down on the Senate Floor.” Http://www.pacificnewscenter.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=32391:mccain&catid=45:guam-news&Itemid=156. 15 Mar. 2013. Accessed 20 Mar. 2013.

Sang-Hung, Chloe, and Steven Erlanger. “North Korea Threatens US Military Bases in Pacific.” New York Times. 21 Mar. 2013. Accessed 22 Mar. 2013.

Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences through the Environmental Studies Program.   This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.

Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, Lecturer Kristen Weiss, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Previously in this series:

The 2013 Guam and Palau Expedition Begins
A New Faculty Member on the Team
An Analysis of Sargassum Horneri Ecosystem Impact
Marine Protected Areas and Catalina Island: Conserve, Maintain and Enrich
Northern Elephant Seals: Increasing Population, Decreasing Biodiversity
The Relationship Between the Economy and Tourism on Catalina Island
Guam and Palau 2013: New Recruits and New Experiences
Bringing War to the “Island of Peace” – The Fight for the Preservation of Jeju-do
Dreading the Dredging: Military Buildup on Guam and Implications for Marine Biodiversity in Apra Harbor
Is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Doing Enough?
The Status of Fisheries in China: How deep will we have to dive to find the truth?
The Philippines and Spratly Islands: A Losing Battle
The Effects of Climate Change on Coral Reef Health
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Island Dispute in the East China Sea
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Selection Process
Before and After the Storm: The Impacts of Typhoon Bopha on Palauan Reefs
An interconnected environment and economy- Shark tourism in Palau
A Persistent Case of Diabetes Mellitus in Guam
Homo Denisova and Homo Floresiensis in Asia and the South Pacific
Investigating the Effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas in Mexico Using Actam Chuleb as a Primary Example
Okinawa and the U.S. military, post 1945
Offshore Energy Acquisition in the Western Pacific: The Decline of the World’s Most Abundant Fisheries

About the Author: Dr. Jim Haw is Ray R. Irani Professor of Chemistry and director of the Environmental Studies Program in the USC Dana and Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. He is also a scientific, technical and recreational diver.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. M Tucker 3:24 pm 06/25/2013

    McCain is a waste of time. He is not the advocate for the military he claims to be. He is only interested in spending money on the military when it means putting them in harms way. Otherwise he could care less about freshwater or waste disposal on Guam.

    Link to this

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