Green flags of growth at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz
Green flags of growth at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz
ASAN, Guam (May 17, 2023) – Driving through Dededo on Route 3 reveals a busy scene. The U.S. Marine Corps Base (MCB) Camp Blaz is abuzz with heavy machinery, framed structures, and freshly turned dirt. The temporary cacophony is testament to new facilities, improved utilities infrastructure, and ongoing environmental and cultural protection projects. Soon, the steady hum of development will culminate in Guam’s newest Department of Defense (DoD) installation.
INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENT PROJECTS
Essential infrastructure for MCB Camp Blaz is being finalized in accordance with the “Green Guam” initiative. In 2011, as part of the Marine Corps build-up, the Department of the Navy pledged to collaborate with island utility agencies to develop the most energy efficient infrastructure possible and support Guam’s goals for sustainable and renewable energy.
Cmdr. Brian Christner, the public works officer at MCB Camp Blaz, noted the projects are coming to fruition thanks to meaningful collaborations with Guam Waterworks Authority, Guam Department of Public Works, and Guam Power Authority. Together with these agencies, the construction related to the Marine installation has brought new or improved water, sewage, energy, and road capacity to the area.
A $173 million expansion to the Northern District Wastewater Treatment Plant was completed in 2022. The expansion significantly increased the capacity for water treatment in the island’s northern region. Additional water infrastructure in the works for the MCB Camp Blaz include improvements to four existing potable water wells, a six-million-liter water tank with water treatment buildings, and three generator buildings.
Community energy infrastructure has been bolstered in order to meet the new power requirements for the base. In the past few months, significant upgrades for the Harmon Power Substation were completed. A total of $62 million went towards installing an underground power line. The upgrades increase the capacity of the existing electrical infrastructure in the northern region of Guam. Electrical power in Dededo is now fully interconnected between the Harmon Substation, the MCB Camp Blaz substation, and an existing substation on Andersen Air Force Base (AAFB). Studies to add solar power capacity to MCB Camp Blaz are in progress.
Road improvements have been a key part of the infrastructure work in the area. Improved roads support residents and future military personnel alike. In partnership with Guam Department of Public Works, approximately $114 million worth of public road improvements have already been completed and an additional $250 million worth of improvements to Route 1 are planned.
Commenting on the progress at the site, Joint Region Marianas (JRM) Commander Rear Adm. Benjamin Nicholson noted, “Any new installation requires a significant amount of infrastructure, and it’s great to be able to coordinate with the island and give back where we can.”
Housing for the anticipated influx of 5,000 Marines is well underway. On Jan. 20, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on AAFB to celebrate the completion of the first phase of Marine Corps housing projects. The first phase delivered 44 duplexes, or 88 units of housing. Each unit includes garages and fenced yards. The duplex units are for junior and mid-grade (E1-E6) Marine families. The next two phases will be completed this summer. Meanwhile, rising high above the rest of the construction on MCB Camp Blaz, eight multi-story bachelor-enlisted buildings are nearing completion. The buildings will provide a total of 4,784 units for unaccompanied E1-E5 Marines.
Nicholson is excited about the new housing developments.
“We are aware of the housing crunch additional military personnel could potentially put on the local market,” he says. “We are constructing a significant amount of additional family housing on Department of Defense property. This gives our military service members a community to hold them accountable, and gives them the unique support they need with other members of the military community. The goal is also to keep more local housing in local hands.”
Transforming the landscape of northern Guam from wild jungle to an operational military installation has been done with great consideration for potential impact on natural resources.
Cmdr. Christner oversees the construction programs for the new installation. He notes, “The construction program as a whole has kept the entire environmental spectrum at the forefront of every planning and design decision.”
During construction, sites are subject to strict biosecurity requirements that prevent the accidental introduction of invasive plants and animals. A biological monitor is on site as construction progresses to ensure endangered species are identified properly and appropriate measures for protection are taken. To date, more than 7,000 native plants have been relocated out of construction sites and protected in a nursery on site. During the final landscaping phase, some of these native plants will be carefully selected and used for landscaping and others will be replanted in protected habitat areas.
In addition to preserving the natural resources on construction sites, over 1,000 acres of fragmented jungle on the installation are undergoing major biosecurity and reforestation initiatives. These efforts are all part of the Camp Blaz Forest Enhancement Program.
Restoration efforts start with fencing areas off for the removal of invasive pigs and deer. Unmitigated, the invasive species destroy native vegetation. After deer and pig are removed, invasive plants and trees are eradicated. Meanwhile, during the invasive species removal, thousands of native plants have been being carefully grown and monitored in the nursery alongside plants relocated out of construction zones. When the jungle is free of invasive species, these native plants will be planted on the base and in the protected areas.
Sheeka Tareyama, a natural resource specialist with MCB Camp Blaz says, “It’s a huge coordination of timing between removing the invasive plants from the sites and getting the native plants in the nursery ready and healthy.” The process is extensive, Tareyma explains, “We track every detail of every individual plant, from how much water it has gotten to how much it has grown. We want to make sure it’s pest free and healthy enough for transplanting.”
Ultimately, the forest enhancement efforts will provide healthy habitat that will aid in the recovery of the Micronesian Kingfisher (Sihek), Mariana Fruit Bat (Fanihi), and other rare native species.
In addition to the reforestation and habitat protection, native species have been heavily incorporated into most aspects of the installation. For example, the base firing ranges are designed with limestone boulders placed behind the range berms, out of reach of any projectiles. These berms will be planted with two species of plants that are eaten by Mariana eight-spot butterfly caterpillars. The intent is to help boost the rare butterfly population. Additionally, the base landscaping will incorporate native plant species, such as native trees and shrubs.
The conservation work will continue even after the completion of the new Marine Corps base. Although the forest enhancement and other long-term work will not be complete for a few more years, these conservation areas will become new focus areas for island-wide community engagement, research, and further environmental investment.
The construction of the new Marine Corps base has impacted approximately 500 acres. Occasionally as the jungle was transformed for construction, archeological remains that would have never before been seen came to light. In order to ensure any traces of archeological remains are identified and protected, archeologists have accompanied every earth-moving crew and continuously monitored site development. Ronnie Rogers, an archeologist with Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Marianas at MCB Camp Blaz notes, “Our archeologists are working with extensive monitoring procedures. They are getting the kind of information that has never been available before.”
Like all members of the team, Rogers is acutely aware of how sensitive his work is. He says, “Where we could avoid sites, we did. That is the first consideration: can the site be avoided…There are numerous training facilities and portions of roads that were redesigned to preserve over a dozen archeological sites or burials in place.”
Rogers is grateful to the budding community of CHamoru archeologists. He states, “It’s important to know, we try to employ locals: students from the University of Guam’s archeology program and specialists who are CHamoru.” He adds, “A lot of the discoveries are made by the young people in fact – they have the best eyes!”
Any significant archeological artifacts not preserved in place will be turned over to the Guam Cultural Repository, a scientific center constructed with a $12 million DoD grant. The vast majority of the artifacts that will be curated in the Guam Cultural Repository are not from the Camp Blaz construction, but from the enormous existing collection held by the Guam Government.
Nicholson is dedicated to the proper respect for these precious historic finds.
“If we are ever in doubt about a find, we err on the side of caution,” says Nicholson. “Anytime we find something, we stop everything and have the area roped off until a representative of State Historic Preservation Office can come and advise us on next steps.”
A VISION OF THE FUTURE
As utilities projects, housing developments, environmental conservation, and cultural protection continue to develop, the vision of a new Marine Corps base for Guam comes closer. Upgraded infrastructure will give the entire island greater resilience and capacity, leading to fewer island-wide power outages and flooding. Expanded on-base housing will offer a stronger community to the military personnel defending the island and reduce the crunch on the local housing market. Carefully preserved cultural sites and natural resources will be able to educate and inspire civilians and military personnel alike.
One day in the near future, a drive through Dededo along Route 3 will reveal a panoramic view of healthy jungle habitat framing a latte stone themed gate. Given the extensive conservation efforts, a future passing driver might even catch a glimpse of the rare eight-spot butterfly flitting by the sign that reads “U.S. Marine Corps Camp Blaz.”
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