Monday, September 01, 2008

Sunny Side Up. Guam’s Beautiful Southern Side

Quaint and quiet even today, sunny and sleepy Inarajan lies by the ocean along Guam’s southern tip, like an island lady napping on a white sandy beach under a canopy of palms.

Away from the noise, the din, the hullabaloo of Guam’s more central hotel and commercial districts, she presents a glimpse into the past, to a time when carabao carts provided daily transportation and automobiles were new-fangled. It was life with kerosene lamps and outdoor kitchens, thatched roofs and raised floors, fishing and farming enmasse, and Mass on Sunday (and every day).

Driving through, you might miss it if you blink. Outlying areas have been developed more in the past 30 years, but the village proper is tiny, about a quarter mile in length from the baseball field at one end to the Catholic church at the other. But there is much to see in Inalahan (pre-Spanish spelling) if you take the time.

Inarajan is on the southeast corner of the island, on Route 4 about 17 miles from Hagatna. The most recent census, in 2000, listed 1,052 people living in the area. Entering the main village from the north, the Gef Pa’go Chamorro Cultural Village is immediately visible to the left, and a great first place to stop. Next to picturesque Inarajan Bay, bamboo and thatch huts shelter volunteers who weave, carve, cook and otherwise share aspects of the Chamorro culture. The cultural center opens daily from 9am to 3pm.

From Gef Pa’go, one can easily walk to view some of the village’s older homes. Inarajan was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and is the only other area on Guam to be on the list besides the capital, Hagatna. The Leon Guerrero house, built in 1901 and part of Gef Pa’go’s walking tour, is only one example of Spanish-influenced architecture that was prevalent on Guam during the late 1800s and 1900s.

Although Guam is still predominantly Catholic, many other denominations call the island home. Adjacent to Gef Pa’go are the remains of a Baptist church built in 1925 by a Guam man who had traveled to the U.S. and returned home after embracing the faith. The tiny chapel-now just one wall remains-functioned up until the 1960s.

Next to the Baptist church grounds is a statue of ancient Inarajan’s Chief Gadao paddling half a canoe. According to legend, Gadao and rival Tumon Chief Malaguana were both in the canoe, paddling in opposite directions. They paddled so hard that they tore the canoe in two.

The Spanish originally built Inarajan’s Catholic church in 1680, at its present location. The thatch structure was destroyed by fire soon after by rebellious Chamorros, according to Guam artist and historian Judy Flores. A stone structure was then built, and its use continued until the mid-1800s. In 1937, a larger building resembling the present structure was started, and was completed in 1941, just before WWII arrived on the island’s doorstep. Named after Saint Joseph, it was damaged during the American retaking of the island in 1944, and by a 1993 earthquake. It was rebuilt in the late 1990s.

Beyond the main village are other interesting sites. Just north, on the opposite side of the bay, is Gadao’s Cave. Although not scientifically proven, it is commonly held that pre-contact era natives painted the 50 or so pictographs found there on the walls. Guam historian Lawrence Cunningham, author of Ancient Chamorro Society, characterizes the drawings as a battle scene.

Also to the north are Fintasa Falls and Malojloj Falls, two areas popular with hikers as they are fairly easily accessible and a short distance from trail heads, and offer a refreshing swim as a reward for seeking them out. Guam hiking guru Dave Lotz’s book “The Best Tracks on Guam” offers direction to both places. The Inarajan’s mayor’s office, which is located in Malojloj, can also give directions. Malojloj, located about three miles north of Inarajan proper was once mostly a serene farming area for Inarajan folk. It is part of the Inarajan municipality but has become a community of its own, with a small church that was once the chapel for a Carmelite convent that has since moved.

Just south of St. Joseph’s are the Saluglula Pools, natural saltwater pools that are popular for swimming, or just safely exploring a marine environment. Bordered by small pavilions, the pools are a pleasant place for a family afternoon.

From the pools, one can see Bear Rock to the south, a coral formation that resembles a standing bear. Drive a short distance to Agfayan Bay and you can pose on the boat ramp for pictures with the bear in the background. It’s also a nice place for rod and reel fishing.

If you are a new resident or just visiting Guam, or want to be reminded of why you love living here, a drive south to Inarajan, is well worth the time, and gasoline. The southern side still shows Guam as it used to be everywhere, quieter, calmer, lush with vegetation, with traditional style homes and much less traffic. Except during fiestas. And that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Answer to Snake Headache is Tylenol.

To say that the brown treesnake has been a headache for Guam, and the federal government, is a vast understatement. The U.S. Geological Survey recently cited a report that just the annual cost to the territory associated with snake-related power outages is about $4.5 million. The cost of the snake’s decimation of bird and other native species, and other effects on the ecosystem here is incalculable. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the USGS are spending millions in research, control and eradication efforts. So it is somewhat of an O. Henry revelation that the active ingredient in some over-the-counter pain relief products might be the medicine that finally grants Guam some snake relief.

Dan Vice, Guam state director for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said that the bulk of what his agency has been doing is focusing on the prevention of the spread of the snake by transport. Some officials fear that should the snake spread unchecked in Hawaii, it could cause ecological and economical damage costing $400 million a year.

Now, following a National Wildlife Research Center breakthrough, Vice and others hope to go after the snake where it lives, mostly in forested areas, with acetaminophen, a substance proven toxic to the reptiles.

The brown tree snake is not native to Guam; in fact the island was free of predatory snakes until Boiga Irregularis arrived. The snake is naturally found in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Melanesia, and likely came to Guam just after the end of WWII as a stowaway in a military cargo shipment that originated from the Admiralty Islands. About ten years later, in the mid-1950s, residents started reporting snake sightings or capture. Beginning in the mid-1960s, scientists noted a declining bird population, but it was not until 1987 when Julie Savidge published a PhD thesis on the subject that the connection between the tree-dwelling snake and Guam’s quieting forests was accepted. But it was too late. The birds were all but gone.

In the 15 years that Vice has headed the USDA’s efforts on Guam to keep the brown treesnake from infesting other areas, his office has provided information and training to military and civilian cargo handlers, set up snake traps along the perimeter of at-risk areas like air and sea ports, run teams of dog handlers and snake sniffing Jack Russell terriers adept at locating snakes in aircraft or cargo, and patrolled designated areas on foot at night seeking the nocturnal creatures. The outfit now has 61 people and an annual budget of $4.2 million

The USGS maintains a four-person rapid-response snake-sighting team on Guam that reacts to local and regional reports of snakes.

All aspects of the USDA facility’s operations are increasing in scope, Vice said, because there are concerns that a hundred-fold increase in cargo traffic, expected to support a planned military buildup here beginning in 2010, and the substantial increase in military training cycles-a primary reason for the buildup-will provide much more opportunity for snakes to get off the island. The USDA snake-catchers already work around the clock, seven days a week, covering port facilities and cargo shippers and their other responsibilities. In fiscal 2007, they caught more than 13,000 snakes. But the snake has already been sighted in Saipan, and eight dead snakes have been found in Hawaii.

“At the same time, we’re really trying to do more for Guam,” he said. “We want to do larger scale population reduction, as opposed to just maintaining a defensive posture.”

With the proven effectiveness of acetaminophen (the wildlife research center reports no survival of snakes within test plots where 80 mg doses of the substance were placed inside dead mice), the tactic “may provide an effective and selective management tool for quickly and efficiently reducing populations of brown treesnakes on Guam.”

Vice said the agencies are refining an aerial delivery method to attack snakes in inaccessible places.

“We want to try dogs in low density settings,” as well, Vice added.

“There are also plans to build islands within an island, put up a snake barrier around some areas,” he said.

The agency protects private power generation substations around Guam by setting and checking traps around their perimeters.

The combined efforts are working. During the 1970s and 80s, it was estimated that there were, on average, about 40 snakes per acre on Guam, but that number has been cut in half.

“There’s no doubt the (snake) population has dropped, but still a whole lot of snakes out there,” Vice said.

But even if the snake is eventually eradicated from Guam, other problems that are believed to stem from the snake’s invasion are only beginning to be understood.

A study by Haldre Rogers, who was part of the USGS team in 2002, found that the extirpation of Guam birds has changed the way Guam forests grow. Without birds to spread tree seeds away from mature trees, seeds that drop to the ground are more likely to become spoiled, or grow in a clump. Also, an explosion in the native spider population is likely due to the reduced bird population.

“I am not sure what will happen to the native trees on Guam, but I think there is a definite possibility that some species will go extinct. Other species will likely be reduced, but persist. Of the tree species in the native forests of Guam, sixty to eighty percent are dispersed by birds. If all of these are reduced, we will see a huge change in the forests. I believe other trees will take their place, but even so, the forest will be changed dramatically. Species that are important to local people for carving or medicinal purposes may be reduced or lost. In addition, we retain a hope that someday we will be able to eradicate the snakes and reintroduce birds. However, if we lose many of the trees that serve as food sources for the birds, the forests may not be suitable for supporting the reintroduced populations when or if that time comes,” Rogers said in a recent Washington Post on-line chat about the brown tree snake.


Guam is greening up all over

Green building, sustainable technology, a minimal carbon footprint are buzz phrases nearly everywhere one turns these days and Guam is no exception. In fact, the DOD push to build up Guam as part of a strategic plan might result in the territory becoming the poster child for environmentally friendly military installations. Just completed military housing at Guam Naval Station is Energy Star and American Disabilities Act certified. And weatherized and shuttered like a fortress in case of a typhoon. Two new schools built for military families here, a high school and a elementary/middle school, faced stringent storm water runoff restrictions. Contractors have been put on notice that upcoming projects like an announced multi-million dollar fitness center at the Navy base will have far more LEED-type requirements than ever before. Guam Naval facilities command spokeswoman Kyra Hawn said the Navy is committed to utilizing environmentally conscious building where feasible and economically sensible. Given the amount of construction activity on the island’s horizon, some $3 billion worth, that could translate to a lot of green building.

But the Defense Department is not alone in wanting to make Guam a greener place (as if it weren’t green enough already. Throw a seed out your window and it grows here, for goodness sake!) Villa Pacita Estates, located just outside Andersen Air Force Base, bills itself as “Guam’s first eco-friendly executive subdivision”. About 100 homes will be built on 20 acres of land about a mile from the air base’s back gate. The $348,000 all-concrete homes in the gated community will feature high value insulation, a water catchment system and radon mitigation, among other green features.

And in Tumon, Guam’s ‘Little Waikiki’, a new hotel, the first significant new construction in the area since the Outrigger Guam was completed in 1999, is putting in waterless urinals and low flow toilets, windows that reflect both heat and light, super high efficiency air conditioning and, oh yeah, flat screens in the bathroom of each guest room. Well, that’s not green, but it is cool.

Watts gets star-ing role

Honolulu based Watts Constructors LLC has set a greener standard for new home construction on Guam, even though most island residents will never see the finished product. Watts is building 240 new, single-story duplex housing units aboard Guam Naval Station here, and the first increment, completed and ready to receive the Navy families that will make them home, are Energy Star certified. To earn the Energy Star, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Senior project superintendent John “Lucky” Luchsinger said the $80 million Navy project is the first Guam housing development to receive such a rating. In addition, 11 of the homes will be constructed according to American Disabilities Act guidelines.

Watts has been busy on Guam this year, having just completed construction of the $35 million, 188,000 square foot AAFES shopping center at Andersen Air Force Base. But where the AAFES project incorporated some sustainable design elements like high efficiency air conditioning systems and native landscaping to conserve water, the $80 million Navy housing project goes further.

Luchsinger said a combination of factors were responsible for the Energy Star rating of the 12,000 to 14,000 square foot homes, including insulation factors, how airtight the units are, and how efficient appliances are.

“They take everything into consideration,” Lucky said.

To help control air conditioning costs-generally the biggest chunk of a monthly utility bill here- foam insulation was sprayed onto the entire inside of all exterior walls to a value of R11, and onto the concrete ceiling to a value of R19.

Keith Dickson of Pacific Industrial Coatings, the subcontractor that did the work, said the spray method gives 100 percent coverage compared to using foam batting placed between wall or ceiling studs.

“There’s no thermal break in the insulation,” Dickson said.

Garages are insulated as well, with foam batting.

Luchsinger said the attic space is also air-conditioned. The cooled space helps keep heat from the concrete roof-a heat sink during the day that takes hours to cool after sunset-from reaching the living area.

Windows are self-sealing to prevent AC-robbing drafts, and are installed in a manner to prevent water from seeping into walls and causing mold growth. The homes are designed to inhibit mold and mildew growth, Luchsinger said.

Dehumidifiers, which as a convenience are piped directly to a drain so no one has to empty a collection pan, help reduce moisture content, which reduces the load on the AC unit.

Energy Star-rated appliances include a microwave oven/exhaust hood combination where just an exhaust hood was called for in the contract.

Of the 240 new units, 10 three bedroom units and one four bedroom home are A.D.A. certified, with features like lowered countertops, wider doorways, wheelchair accessible sinks and roll-in showers, downward tilted vanity mirrors, and a ramp to the garage.

A radon mitigation system consisting of a perforated PVC pipe network under the foundation slab and a vapor barrier leads to a stack outside each home. Part of Watt’s contract calls for radon testing a year after construction completion.

Although 2002’s Super typhoon Pongsona was the last patch of really bad weather Guam has seen, smart contractors build for the inevitable. Even the Spanish wrote in the 1600s of Guam’s fierce storms. To guard against high winds and flying debris, all windows are equipped with decorative but functional aluminum typhoon shutters with stainless steel hardware, rated for 170 mph exposure. Garage doors are engineered specifically for Guam, with additional, stronger ribs and more anchor points.

“They’re solid as a rock,” Luchsinger said.

The homes themselves are all concrete tilt-up construction with three-inch prestressed reinforced roof panels plus a three-inch poured reinforced concrete slab on top, and are wired so about half of a unit’s electrical outlets can receive power from alternate source with the flick of a breaker panel switch, and have a plug-in connection box for an outdoor generator in the event of weather-related power outages.

All utilities are underground. Only streetlights are exposed.

The housing development includes four kids’ playground areas, four basketball courts, one baseball field and a jogging path through and around the 30-acre site.
Vantage Point

Tucked into the west side of breezy Mt. Santa Rosa, just minutes from Andersen Air Force Base, Villa Pacita Estates will be Guam’s first eco-friendly private housing subdivision.

Joe Sicad, Tommy Tanaka Jr. and James Tan make up the Vantage Group, the developer of the 20-acre property located along Rt. 15 in the northern village of Yigo (Jee-go).

Sicad said he and Tanaka were searching for developable Guam property when they came upon the site, which had had infrastructure put in place 10 years ago by the Tan family, who owned it. Although a number of small homes had been built on the property, it had never been developed to the extent the Tan’s had envisioned when it was subdivided into 119 lots.

“We came in and met with James and said, ‘we have a concept we’d like to present to you and your family. We want to do something along the lines of green building,’” Sicad said.

Sicad, who had a recycling background, and Tanaka, a realtor and businessman, had done a feasibility study to find out what was being developed, what kind of homes were being built, and found there was an unmet need, an opportunity to do something different, Sicad said.

The difference would be a small community built to incorporate Green Building Council initiatives to promote healthier living, help to reduce the community’s waste stream and make efficient use of natural resources like sunlight and water.

“By first eco-friendly subdivision, we mean first to fully incorporate these systems into a subdivision. These systems are not necessarily new, it’s just that we made the commitment to put them into the subdivision,” Sicad said.

“On the healthy living side, we recognized that there wasn’t anyone doing the radon (mitigation) system.”

Sicad and Tanaka had been aware of radon and that the odorless, tasteless gas was the second leading cause of lung cancer, and that it was most prevalent in the northern part of the island.

“So we got wind of this radon problem and got real concerned.”

Guam EPA environmental health specialist Steve Norby said that most of northern Guam is rated Zone 1 with regard to radon, meaning there is a high potential for the gas to be present. Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil. Northern Guam is basically a plateau where water runoff and related erosion is less-thus soil collects-than in mountainous southern areas with more dramatic soil erosion. In GEPA’s view, radon mitigation systems built into homes is a great idea.

“We’d like that to happen everywhere,” Norby said.

Sicad said some people think they can just open a window, but if a home is closed up all day, a significant amount of radon gas could build up and residual amounts could remain even with windows open.

Villa Pacita homes include a passive collection system installed under the foundation, perforated PVC piping under a vapor barrier connected to a stack rising above the roof. An electrical stubout is installed next to the stack in case a homeowner wants to put in a fan to pull any collected gas.

“It’s a real simple system,” Sicad said

Then Vantage looked at what other benefits it could offer and quickly focused on Guam’s average 90 inches of rain a year. The company thought about a precious resource going to waste, and about island living years ago when people lived off the land and collected water for daily use.

So, Vantage’s homes will include a catchment system, rain gutters directed to a 500-gallon tank that flows to a guest toilet and a hose connection outdoors for car washing, hosing down the driveway or landscaping.

“At least you are using rainwater as opposed to municipal water,” Sicad said.

The tank can also be filled with municipal water in a dry spell, and in the event public water is interrupted, the system is engineered so the whole house can use rainwater if necessary.

Other water related sustainable features include water saver toilets, aerated faucets, and a water softener to help keep mineral content out of plumbing. The company will also use water collected in an on-site ponding basin to irrigate landscaping and a homeowner gardening area set aside in a two-acre common area park.

Because of the expense of solar energy technology, Vantage opted out of powering their homes with sunlight, but still wanted to encourage the idea. Knowing that water heaters consume considerable power, the company included electrical and plumbing stubouts on the roof.

“They don’t have to chip out concrete or surface run pipe. If they want a solar water heater, the infrastructure is there, Tanaka said.

While Guam’s year round sunlight is perfect for heating water, it is a bane for the concrete roofs that are standard Guam construction and act as huge heat sinks during the day, and can take six or eight hours to cool off. The stored heat makes life uncomfortable for occupants, to say the least, and places an additional load on air conditioning equipment fighting to bring down interior temperatures.

To address that, Vantage added clay tiles set in mortar on top of the six-inch thick roof, and a three-inch thick layer of expanded polystyrene foam covered by drywall attached to interior ceilings.

Central ducted five-ton air conditioners connected to programmable thermostats were selected to cool the homes, and ceiling fans are included so buyers can take advantage of northern Guam’s cool nights and shut off air conditioners completely.

Other power conservation features include photocells on all exterior lighting, and compact fluorescent lighting inside. All appliances are Energy Star rated, and ranges are gas instead of electric.

Vantage is talking to local trash haulers to develop a separate-and-recycle program.

A walking path through the park is another nod toward healthy living.

Tanaka said 10 units have already been sold, and that at a recent weekend showing, prospective buyers turned up in droves. Contractor Hua Sheng International continues work on the site.

“We’re looking at sort of a niche market, a different kind of buyer. Our target is the environmentally conscious professional who sees long-term value in the systems we are putting in,” Sicad said.

Outrigger partner puts paddles in the water

Phase five of Tanota Partners Tumon Bay development project is Tumon’s first major new construction project since the 600 room Outrigger Hotel was completed and opened in 1999. Bayview Five is a planned 400 room 30 story tower now under construction, sandwiched between the Hyatt Regency Guam and the Outrigger, which was also built by Tanota.

Although the project was envisioned in break ground in 2001, it was held up because of Guam economic woes exacerbated by 9/11, after which an already soft tourism market imploded, said Tanota’s Michael Ysrael.

Fast forward seven years and things have not changed that much. Tourism numbers are still down from record highs in the mid 1990s. An announced mult-ibillion dollar Defense Department buildup has caused a stir, and stirred up real estate prices, but little of the real money talked about has begun to flow. Despite this, Tanota is moving ahead. They believe that remaining static will be the death of Guam’s tourism industry, which Ysrael said was the bread and butter of Guam’s economy more so than any other economic engine. Guam has to keep up, or better, lead.

“In this industry, everything is changing constantly,” Ysrael said.

Easily 90 percent of Guam’s visitors annually originate from around the Pacific Rim, and are accustomed to leading edge technology, and expect it when they travel as well. To keep them interested in coming to Guam, businesses, especially hoteliers, must provide access to that technology. For example, Tanota is considering a recommendation that bathrooms in the new hotel have flat screen televisions.

“Not just a TV, but flatscreen. An I-Pod station is a must in every room. We need to constantly improve our product,” Ysrael said.

The company, which owns three hotels in Tumon all operated under the Outrigger brand, is spending $10 million to upgrade the Guam Outrigger. They are spending $95 million to build the new structure. And in the area of green building, the product will clearly be an improvement compared to existing technology already in use on Guam.

When Tanota built the Guam Outrigger nine years ago, they chose a high efficiency air conditioning system. The AC system selected for the new complex is much more efficient, rated at .33 KW per ton compared to .66 KW per ton, Ysrael said.

Building insulation used in the 1999 construction has paid for itself many times over. Phase Five will also use glass windows treated to reflect both light and heat.

A rain catchment system will collect water for use in AC cooling towers and to irrigate landscaping. Guam gets about 90 inches of rain annually, on average. In addition, condensation from AC equipment will be diverted to the catchment system. Low flow toilets and waterless urinals will also be used to conserve water usage.

If concerns about typhoon winds can be allayed, the company may build a passive solar water heating system on top of part of the structure to warm water before it runs through active water heaters and into guest rooms. Photovoltaic technology is also under consideration, Ysrael said.

Contractor Inland Builders has done a lot of work for Tanota on Guam over the years, but had no high-rise experience. To get the job, they formed a joint venture with the Philippines’ SKI Construction Group, a company with extensive vertical building experience. Guam architect Oscar Coloma was hired to design the structure when it was initially going forward, and had completed about 60 percent of the work when the project was shelved. Tanota took a page from the DOD construction manual and took the detailed but incomplete plans to Inland with instructions that the builder value engineer the rest, Ysrael said.

Work at the oceanfront site was ongoing in early August, as crews bored six-foot diameter holes 50 to 80 feet deep for reinforced concrete foundation pilings. Ysrael said Tanota chose the bored piles method to avoid disturbing guests in neighboring hotels with a pile driver.

Have it your way, kudasai

The King, Burger King, that is, comes to Tumon to anchor Baba Corporation’s Tumon Bay Commercial Building along Pale San Vitores Road, Guam’s hotel row. The $1.75 million, 17,000 square foot single story building was started in March by contractor 5M Construction, and is scheduled done in December.

“It’s tall for a one story building. We wanted a sense of presence along the street,” project architect Andy Laguana, of Guam-based Architects Laguana and Cristobal, said. The building’s roof will be 16 feet high. Two towers, each on opposite ends of the 300-foot by 65-foot structure, will further highlight the project.

Laguana said the project utilizes all cast in place concrete construction, and has parking for 100 cars and a drive-through for Burger King customers.

“It’s a traditional style though well articulated. It has some interesting details, balusters to screen off the AC equipment on the roof, and the two octagonal towers.”

Stringent storm drainage regulations required the building of an underground on site ponding basin which captures all runoff water and allows it to percolate into the ground.

“Everything has to be contained on site,” Laguana said.

And because of what Guam’s wastewater operator says is a lack of capacity, Baba Corp. was required to install a wastewater holding tank and only dump it at off peak times, until such time as the capacity problem is resolved, Laguana said.

Talofofo Bay protection continues

Officials expect completion by November of federally funded shoreline protection work in the southern villages of Talofofo and Inarajan. The revetment work is being done to protect roadways skirting scenic ocean bays in both communitues, Guam Department of Works Federal Highways Division Fred Cruz said. Years of storm damage in Talofofo has badly eroded the shore area to the point where the high water mark was about 100 feet from the roadway.

Contractor Reliable Builders has worked two shifts seven days a week to lay in hundreds of tons of bedding stones, huge boulders and a filter fabric to control sediment erosion underneath the rock revetment.

SEA Engineering of Hawaii designed the project, which cost about $4.1 million, $2.9 million for Talofofo and $1.2 million for Inarajan, Cruz said.

Dick Pacific Clicks

Dick Pacific Construction Co. Ltd. was very busy on Guam last year. The total value of military contracts completed was about $100 million, and included a war reserve materiel warehouse, munitions storage igloos and medical/dental clinic at Andersen Air Force Base, the Navy’s Fena water treatment plant and DODEA’s Guam High School.

“Last year was a good year. We did well financially,” Vice-president for Micronesia Louis Demaria said.

This fiscal year, however, the total value of Defense-related work up for bid was only about $150 million, the number of serious players has increased, and the rules are changing. And fiscal 2009 promises to be even slower, with only about $100 million in DOD contracts. But Demaria remains upbeat and focused on the future. If things go as promised, there is a ton of work around the corner. But it certainly won’t be a cakewalk.

“It’s pretty slow right now. We just finished up McCool Middle and Elementary School,” at Guam Naval Station, Demaria said.

The $38 million fast track project was completed in 11 months, and was awarded as a second phase of the DODEA Guam High School job. Earlier this year the company was awarded the Navy’s $31 million Guam potable water upgrade contract, but work has not started because the award is under protest. Several other Guam projects, including the Navy’s $62 million bachelor enlisted quarters, a $45 million fitness center and a new command center are in the works, awaiting qualification, bids or bid results. But the real work is supposed to start in 2010.

“We’re looking forward to 2010, if, in fact, a billion dollars is coming out of it. At least there is some real work there,” Demaria said. But for the moment, “There’s just too many competitors for the amount of work they’ve got.”

Demaria said that the military’s encouragement to any and all, leading up to and following their announcement of a $3 billion Guam strategic buildup, “to come on in and get situated,” has not yet been followed with the amount of money that’s needed to support the number of contractors already on Guam and those that have heeded the invitation.

“We’re disappointed in these industry forums that have given huge numbers of contractors the idea that there is a lot of work here, and in some ways off-island firms have had advantages over the on-island firms, in that they don’t have any overhead here, a workforce to sustain. When they’re bidding, they can just bid that one-off job and if they don’t win it’s no big deal. For us, every one of these jobs we go after, we have to win some of the work each year, because if we shrink, our competitive edge goes with the shrinkage, we lose a key component of our team.”

With 2009 being a slow year, there’s going to be fall out.

“Our subs are already feeling the pain, they are calling us regularly asking, ‘You got any work?’”

Although there is significant private sector work, particularly in high-end condominiums, it is going only to selected companies.

“The Koreans are investing huge amounts of money here, and Korean contractors and a few select non-Korean firms are getting that, but the rest of the contractors aren’t seeing any of that work. Koreans are like the Japanese. Japanese investment likes to stay with Japanese contractors. The same with Koreans, they like to stay with Korean contractors.”

So the military work which many companies thought would have broken loose quite a bit more by now hasn’t happened, and that’s created a situation where there is a lot of competition for current Defense projects, Demaria said.

“The military probably likes the standpoint that they’re getting more competition, but I doubt it’s really affected their price because we still had competition before the new firms came in.”

Beyond that, Demaria looks at a construction environment that will accelerate from $100 million a year to $1 billion, and says, “I think that’s going to create a bit of confusion, or challenges.”

This year, for example, the Navy had six major projects for bid, and two are tied up in protest, he said. Contractors are having a difficult time just getting security passes for workers.

“Everybody finds that a problem. It’s kind of an archaic system but I understand it. The military will never be able to support a major operation with the way things go now. You’re going to have a hundred cars sitting outside with a dozen people in each car waiting to get in. They definitely need to find a way to streamline. I know they’re working on it.”

Demaria said the Navy has also been working on contractor requirements, which are becoming much more stringent, to the dismay of local contractors.

“Requirements have gotten so stringent that its getting very difficult to qualify for these projects, even for us and we’re of the largest contractors for the military here.”

For instance, the Navy’s BEQ project required the bidder to have built a similar project within the last five years, but none were authorized for Guam in that period. But Dick Pacific has built nine BEQs in Hawaii, some within the required time frame.

“There haven’t been any new BEQs built in Guam during the last five years. Yet, Black Construction and us and Watts could easily build a BEQ. We’ve built them in other places. Because of our Hawaii connection, we were able to bid. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to do it. And we build that sort of stuff regularly.”

“It seems that they have gotten so stringent that they are actually hurting local firms on that kind of work. Same with the wastewater treatment job. We struggled to qualify, yet it’s a project we could easily do. We’ve done that sort of work in other locations.”

“It’s going to be interesting times with this buildup. The off-island firms are clearly trying to position this to be much more generic, and not favor local firms,” Demaria said.

In the past, off-island contractors have come in and bid on work and have not succeeded because local firms have had an advantage, knowing the territory. If that local advantage is taken away through constraints on qualifications or otherwise, local firms will have to go elsewhere or change their model.

“NAVFACS needs to be a little careful in the qualifications they put together because if they exclude local firms, they’re not going to get that local expertise.”


March 16, 2007

My dearest Alyssa,

I want to thank you for being the feisty, independent, intelligent young woman that you have become. I know that these attributes will serve you well as you continue to mature. Although some parents may expect, even demand, that their children be meek and subservient to them long into the child’s adulthood, I think you know this in not the case between you and I.

I also see your loyalty to your friends, whom you are quite particular in choosing, and this is important. Allowing yourself to be swept up in the crowd, to go with the flow, to indiscriminately let others choose you, can sometimes mean you lose yourself in their decisions or their environment. The result may not be bad, but it may not be of your choosing, and may take you away from your destiny.

I am very happy that you have in your mind a sense of what you want to be and where you want to go. It took me many years more than you to understand who I was, and what direction to follow, even though looking back, the indicators were there. I just didn’t read them.

I am quite proud of your abilities, both intellectual and practical, the maturity and depth of your writing especially. You sing like an angel. And your cooking makes my mouth water, even the Spam with the fish sauce cucumber stuff.

I know I may seem overprotective at times. But I have just wanted to try to let you reach in relative safety a level of maturity that will allow you to protect yourself from the evils of this world, and trust me, evil is out there.

Have faith in your convictions and in yourself and in your God, my daughter. I believe you are on your way to a wonderful life’s journey.

There was once a man who was saddened, as he felt he had passed through the world and not left a legacy that would benefit the ages. Then, one day, he realized that his legacy was his wonderful children, and the world was a better place because of them. That happy man is me.