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LaHood spoke at a news conference Saturday following a tour of the Port with Governor Eddie Calvo who welcomed LaHood saying that while he has had issues with some other federal agencies over buildup related funding needed to pay for water, waste-water and power upgrades, he had no complaints about the Department of Transportation which he called "a partner, not only with the Port, but with the people of Guam."
The Governor pointed out that more than $100-million dollars in DOT funded road projects are planned or are underway on the island "which not only will prepare this island for the buildup but will improve the quality of life for our people."
And the Governor also mentioned the more $100-million in funds available for upgrades to the Port. There is a grant of about $50 million from the Department of Defense. And there is another $50 million low interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The release of those funds is controlled by the U.S. Maritime Agency, MARAD, an agency within the Department of Transportation.
"If this island is going to continue to grow...then this Port has to be fixed up," said LaHood.
Almost all commercial goods sold on island arrive through the Port of Guam and it will play a key role in the military buildup, although it threatens to become a bottle-neck unless its facilities and handling capacity are upgraded.
"I know how important imports are to the island, and I know how important the Port is," said LaHood and "if this island is going to continue to grow...then this Port has to be fixed up," he said.But to date, that $100-million in MARAD controlled funding to "fix up" the Port remains unspent.
The reason has been differences between the Port Board and MARAD over what to do about the condition of the wharf which, the DoD Inspector General said last year, was in danger of collapse and needed to be replaced.
MARAD was leaning towards replacing the wharf at a cost of more than $100-million, which would have used up both the DoD grant and the USDA loan. The Port Board opposed that option preferring a $15-million repair of the wharf.
So the money has gone unspent because MARAD has been contemplating how to use it.
However, earlier this month MARAD told the Port Board that a second report they sought concluded that the wharf's condition was not as bad as originally thought and MARAD gave their blessing to repair the wharf rather than replace it.
LaHood said "now that the study has been completed, once the Board takes action on that study, the DOT will become very good partners for this Port and do all that we can to be helpful."
"Thanks to the leadership of the people at this table, this Port will get into the 21st century," said LaHood.
Referring to the Port's Board and management LaHood said "these folks have a good vision. All they need is an opportunity to find some partners to invest in this Port. I believe that will happen now."
LaHood also committed to meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta when he gets back to Washington and talk to him about his visit to the Port of Guam and the commitment of DOT to the Port.
LaHood is on Guam at the invitation of UOG President Dr. Robert Underwood and he will deliver the commencement address at UOG Sunday.
This is his third visit to Guam.
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