$5.6 billion eyed for new Guam facilities

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The U.S. Marine Corps has come up with a $5.6 billion estimate and a four-stage process for constructing facilities in Guam necessary to take in 6,000 marines from Okinawa by 2012, U.S. defense sources said.

The calculations show the U.S. military has been working to determine a substantive cost estimate behind the scenes as negotiations continue during which Washington has presented an $8 billion estimate to Japan as the basis for nailing down the cost of the move and their respective share of the expenses.

The sources said Friday the total cost will probably end up at around $6 billion, indicating the U.S. eyes the figure as a possible compromise.

Japan will be expected to foot up to 60 percent of the bill.

The Marine Corps began the studies last year in preparations for launching the project as soon as the two nations agree on an implementation plan to move 7,000 marines out of Okinawa — 6,000 to Guam and 1,000 to other places in Japan — under a broad package of accords reached in October on realignment of the U.S. military presence.

The early action also reflects the fact that environmental impact studies required for new facilities in Guam will take at least 12 months, the sources said.

U.S. Defense Department officials declined to comment on the estimated cost for the Guam construction but confirmed preliminary studies are being carried out there. The Pentagon is seeking $15 million for the studies as part of the fiscal 2007 budget.

“The funding will support preliminary studies, environment impact assessment, and planning and concept development associated with the Marine Corps relocation,” an official said. “There are numerous factors that must be studied before we commit to building adequate facilities.”

The sources said the Marine Corps has already sounded out Guam about the need to include outside contractors and workers to double the annual construction capacity there to $800 million, meaning the project would cost some $5.6 billion under a seven-year 2012 completion goal targeted by Japan and the United States.

The Marine Corps has also set a four-stage “road map” — renovating existing unused facilities, embarking on utility works, refurnishing and upgrading existing in-use facilities, and lastly, starting construction of new facilities, the sources said.

They said the Marine Corps plans to begin moving troops from Okinawa in 2008 but also has other options, such as starting to move some to renovated facilities next July or January.

On the diplomatic side, the U.S. has come up with various cost estimates, ranging from $3.5 billion to nearly $9 billion, and the two nations have started to sort out necessary facilities based on the top-end estimate to nail down the cost.

The initial low-end estimate was based on a local calculation that Guam’s current construction capacity is about $400 million annually and that the project will take more than 10 years.

But given that the 2012 goal requires speeding up the project and bringing in advanced construction technology, more outside contractors and workers, the U.S. has revised the estimates upward.

The U.S. has officially set the total estimated cost at about $8 billion, and is reportedly asking Japan to pay 75 percent, or about $6 billion.

But the top-end cost is aimed at facilitating the bilateral work to narrow down necessary facilities, and it comprises the Marine Corps’ full wish list, such as “world-class” training areas in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, housing, medical facilities, schools, utility infrastructure and bases, the sources said.

Should Washington be willing to pay $2 billion, or 25 percent of the $8 billion cost, the U.S. side is likely to settle with Japan’s share of less than 60 percent under a possible $6 billion compromise deal, one source said.

But the source cautioned that the scenario is just simple arithmetic and is separate from negotiation tactics.

Japan needs to reduce its burden as much as possible to gain domestic support for a project that involves funding construction of military facilities overseas for a foreign power, with uncertainties prevailing over whether the Finance Ministry will fully accept such budget requests.

The sources said a final agreement depends on the extent of U.S. concessions, the cost of raising Guam’s capacity, and how much of the burden Japan is willing to share and if it would sacrifice the goal of completing the relocation by 2012 to bring down the cost.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is committed to solving the cost issue, especially given that the Pentagon is focused on Guam as the center of its plan for a greater Pacific presence against China under the Quadrennial Defense Review report issued last week.