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Corps' Guam buildup, wharf project de-linked

Navy aircraft carrier wharf project in limbo

Dec. 31, 2012 - 05:54PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 31, 2012 - 05:54PM  |  
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The military has severed a Marine Corps plan to move troops to Guam from a Navy plan to build a new aircraft carrier wharf in Apra Harbor, and as the Marine transfer progresses slowly, there is no solidified strategy for wharf construction.

Construction of an aircraft carrier wharf somewhere in Apra Harbor remains a valid option, but the project is unfunded and the timeline and priority of the project are being "continually assessed," said Navy spokesman Lt. William Knight.

The proposed wharf, which would allow the Navy's largest carriers to dock in the harbor, originally was part of the overall buildup plan to relocate Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

But the military has delinked the carrier wharf from the Marine move, and there is no definite strategy for wharf construction.

"Limited military construction funds make project selection and programming extremely competitive," Knight said in a Navy statement. "The priority for a (aircraft carrier) pier is continuously being assessed against the remainder of the Navy's worldwide requirements."

A few years ago, the military linked the Marine Corps move and the wharf construction because it expected the two projects would happen about the same time.

Together, the Marine Corps relocation and the carrier wharf would have created a "huge" impact, which is why both projects were studied in the original environmental impact study in 2010, said Joe Ludovici, director of the Joint Guam Program Office.

However, that strategy makes sense only if the projects go ahead at the same time, Ludovici said. The target date for the Marine Corps relocation is moving toward 2015 while the plans for the carrier wharf remain in limbo.

"That math isn't true anymore today. ... We are going to study just the Marine elements that are here, and if the carrier and battle group comes in later on, they have to study the impacts they might put on the system, and do their own mitigations," Ludovici said, adding later: "We should have done it together, if we are doing it at the same time. ... But we are not doing it together anymore."

The Joint Guam Program Office is moving ahead now with a new comprehensive study on the Marine move, and the Navy wharf isn't part of the study. JGPO hosted three scoping meetings in early November, and the public was given until earlier this month to comment on the preliminary plan for the Marine move. More public comment periods will be held over the next few years.

The military buildup will bring about 5,000 Marines and 1,300 family members from Okinawa to Guam. The supplemental environmental impact study will examine where to build a new Marine base and firing range.

If it is ever built, the Apra Harbor carrier wharf would allow the largest ships in the Navy to quadruple the amount of time they spend in Guam. Although options for the wharf were studied in recent years, the Navy never decided where to build it.

The options

The options were narrowed to two — Polaris Point or the former Ship Repair Facility. Both locations would require dredging about 70 acres of seabed, much of which is covered in coral reef. The locations are about 1,500 feet apart, on opposite sides of the channel in inner Apra Harbor.

The Navy also said it would consider a third, less-controversial option — the Lockwood-San Luis Beach area near Gabgab Beach.

That option has been supported by local scientists, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Sen. Judith Guthertz, chairwoman of the Guam Legislature buildup committee.

Knight said all three options are still being analyzed, and it is "premature" to consider any option preferred over the others. A final site won't be chosen until after the Navy completes National Environmental Policy Act analysis and Clean Water Act permitting, and construction can't begin until a final site is chosen, Knight said.

"No dredging or construction would occur until after final site selection has been made. The timeline for undertaking site-specific NEPA analysis is being continuously assessed in light of the funding considerations discussed above," Knight said in the Navy statement.

The Navy is waiting for coral reef surveys from HDR Inc, which was hired to measure the amount of coral in the proposed dredging zone. According to Pacific Daily News files, the surveys were expected to be finished a year ago, but Knight said the resulting report is in an "internal draft stage" and not available to the public.

HDR Inc. couldn't be reached for comment.

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