After high court ruling, Calvo urges balance of religion, diversity

Monday, 29 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY ROBERT Q. TUPAZ | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

WITH the issue of marriage equality settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, Gov. Eddie Calvo urged the religious community and opponents of same-sex marriage to be respectful of the varying viewpoints on the issue.

The Supreme Court on Friday issued a 5-4 decision in favor of gay marriage. The ruling requires all states and territories to recognize same marriages. In a statement from Adelup, Calvo committed to follow the law and ensure gay marriage is not impeded in Guam.

“The Supreme Court decision settles an issue that has been argued for decades across the nation, and more recently on Guam. As we understand, the impact of the ruling makes this the law of the land, and this administration will follow the law,” Calvo said in reaction to the news. “I know that this is an emotional issue – I have received hundreds of emails and Facebook messages with some very strong and sometimes divisive comments for and against gay marriage.”

Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz was confident ahead of Friday’s ruling that the court would rule in favor of same-sex marriage. “I’m confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule appropriately,” Cruz said in an earlier interview with Variety, predicting that gay marriages would be allowed.

Cruz, one of the island’s first openly gay public officials, introduced the first domestic partnership measure almost six years ago during the term of the 30th Guam Legislature. Cruz’s measure was heard and made it through committee where it remained. The issue deeply divided the community, with the opposition concerned about the sanctity of marriage versus equal rights for all.

Trailblazers

On June 13, Cruz officiated over the wedding of Kathleen Aguero and Loretta Pangelinan who blazed the path for gay marriage in Guam.

The pair sued for the right to marry after they were turned away when they tried to apply for a marriage license on April 8. The couple took the case to federal court and was victorious with the arguments on June 5.

Calvo added that as gay marriage is mainstreamed in Guam, the island community – known for its diversity – should continue the course.

“It is important that we all remember that love is at the heart of both the arguments to allow gay marriage and those that promote the traditional definition of marriage. It is also important that as we acknowledge civil rights, we acknowledge the rights of individuals and religious organizations to their beliefs,” Calvo said. “I urge everyone to engage in discussion that helps us move forward, and with respect for one another, find a solution that works for our island.”

The governor cautioned lawmakers who craft laws regarding equal rights in light of the ruling. “As the legislature crafts new legislation to reflect the Supreme Court’s decision, I remind them to consider the freedom of religion. New legislation must find the balance that ensures the rights of all Guamanians are protected,” Calvo said.

Equality

Two bills have been introduced related to gender equality. Sen. Nerissa Underwood introduced Bill 119, the Guam Marriage Equality Act of 2015, after the District Court of Guam issued its ruling. The measure will synchronize local law with the lower court and now the Supreme Court’s ruling among other provisions.

As well, Cruz introduced Bill No. 102, the Guam Employment Nondiscrimination Act of 2015. He explained that in 29 states and Guam, certain types of discrimination were not prohibited and individuals could be fired because of his or her sexual orientation or identification. Public hearings for both measures were held by the legislature last week.

‘Ideals of love’

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were,” Kennedy said. “As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

In the dissent, Chief Justice John G. Roberts stated that the majority wanted to remake society. “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedents. The majority expressly disclaims judicial 'caution' and omits even a pretense of humility, openly relying on its desire to remake society according to its own ‘new insight’ into the ‘nature of injustice,’” Roberts stated. “As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the states and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?”

According to Associated Press reports, the first lawsuit in the U.S. seeking same-sex marriage rights was filed in Minnesota by Jack Baker and Michael McConnell after a county clerk denied their application for a marriage license in 1970 (see related story on page 18 ). On appeal, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which dismissed it, thereby upholding Minnesota's law limiting marriage to heterosexual unions.

   

Department of Interior Secretary Jewell coming to Guam


Saturday, 27 Jun 2015 03:00am


BY ROBERT Q. TUPAZ | VARIETY NEWS STAFF


A MEMBER of President Obama’s Cabinet has included Guam in her itinerary.


Secretary Sally Jewell of the Department of Interior made an extra effort to explain the significance of her stop on Guam as she visits China and Vietnam next week. Jewell said she wanted to illustrate and “further the United States’ commitment to insular areas and Guam’s importance to the region.”

According to DOI, while on Guam, Jewell is scheduled to meet with government officials, tour the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, provide keynote remarks at a Guam business leaders’ forum and meet with Department of Defense leaders.

Gov. Eddie Calvo will meet with Jewel to discuss issues specific to Guam including Medicaid, Compacts of Free Association issues, the cost of compliance with federal regulations such as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the federal taxes local insurance companies pay for the Health Care Act, according to a statement from Adelup.

Earlier meeting

Calvo and Jewell met earlier this year at a conference. The administration hopes the visit will allow Jewell “to see Guam firsthand and get a better understanding of the issues the governor and other local leaders have brought to Washington, D.C.”

"I appreciate that Secretary Jewell will be able to visit our island. It is one thing to hear about Guam and listen to our concerns and issues, but seeing the island first-hand and speaking with the people who work and live here allows a better understanding of those concerns," Calvo said.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said she, too, is looking forward to Jewell’s visit.

“Secretary Jewell is making an important trip to Vietnam and China to advance our national interests, and I’m glad she’s including Guam in her trip to Asia,” Bordallo said. “Secretary Jewell has been a strong advocate for Guam and the other U.S. territories, and she recognizes the important role Guam plays in the security and economic stability of the Asia-Pacific region.”

Bordallo said she will use the opportunity to bring home the importance of addressing several issues related to the impact the Compacts of Free Association has on the island. “I hope that her visit will give her a better understanding of the issues important to our island and our neighbors in the freely associated states.”

Strong advocate

“I am also pleased that she is taking the time to become better informed about the military realignment to the Asia-Pacific region and the pivotal role that Guam plays in this initiative,” Bordallo added. “She is a strong advocate for the preservation of our natural resources and the importance of addressing climate change issues on Guam and in our region. I look forward to her meetings with local leaders and our community so that we can all work more collaboratively on issues important to Guam and our nation.”

Jewell is point person for the overall coordination of federal policy for the U.S. insular areas. As well, as head of DOI, Jewell is tasked with the distribution of appropriated funds for island territories by the federal government. She also oversees all U.S. financial assistance that benefits the freely associated states.

She will be accompanied by DOI Assistant Secretary of Insular Affairs Esther Kia’aina who had just visited the island in recent weeks. This will be Jewell’s first visit to the island since being nominated by Obama in February 2013.


Team Guam sends six triathletes to PNG for Pacific Games


Posted:Jun 29, 2015   KUAM


 


The Guam Triathlon Federation will be sending a total of six athletes to the Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea. Cameron O'Neal will be leading the team as coach and competitor alongside Peter Lombard and Patrick Camacho on the men's side. For the women's Karly O'neal, Mylene Garcia and Ashalynn Perez will help do their part to keep the team in medal contention.


O'Neal told KUAM News, "Training has been going pretty well and we are kind of in the meat and potato so to speak with our training program right now. Next couple of weeks are going to be high intensity mileage in the water out on the track and some high intensity bike workouts and run workouts. That last week or so, maybe ten days or so we will start tapering down so we are well rested and our body recovers from all of the hard work. As the coach my biggest thing is to kind of keep everyone's nerves under control so that we can focus everything and all the training and hard work that we have done and put it all together on race day."


Team Guam is coming off a bronze medal finish in the 2011 Pacific Games held in New Caledonia. Most of the members on the team have competed in other triathlon events on and off island. As for the course our athletes say that it will be similar to what they face here on island.


O'Neal added, "I think that we do have a benefit in that our course might be similar. I heard that it is mostly flat with a few hills on the bike but the run should be very flat. Papua new guinea does have really strong head wind that time of the year that we experienced the last time we were there but training right here on our port road we have a lot of the same similar head wind. I think we have a benefit going in as far as the course. There will be some really fast people competing there and i also heard there will be about 20,000 spectators in the stadium as we finish so it's going to be pretty exciting ordeal."

The athletes all have their different strengths but will have to come together as a team in order to make it on the podium.

Camacho said, "We always push each other and we all have our different strengths and we just try to help each other in each leg of the triathlon. Some of my teammates are stronger than me in the swim and they will push me harder and I'm strongest on the bike and I'll try and pull more and help motivate them as well on the bike. We are all pretty much the same on the run. So basically we just try and motivate each other to do our best and we just give each other tips and just help each other get stronger."

 Tropical disturbance may head to Marianas

Monday, 29 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY ANSALL MENO | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

ACCORDING to the National Weather Service, a tropical disturbance may be headed for the Mariana Islands and could affect the islands by Wednesday.

The disturbance is predicted to start to move in a west-northwest direction toward the Mariana Islands by mid-week, according to NWS.

As of 11:30 a.m. yesterday, the disturbance was located between Kosrae and Pohnpei. It is centered about 160 miles northwest of Kosrae, at 7 degrees north latitude and 161 degrees east longitude.

The NWS computer guidance model indicated yesterday that the disturbance is likely to develop into a tropical storm. “Since this tropical disturbance is still developing ... it is not yet possible to give detailed information on its future track or winds as it approaches the Marianas,” NWS stated.

The monsoon trough has become active and another disturbance centered 440 miles south of Guam is being monitored.

“West monsoon winds and waves will increase across much of eastern Micronesia in the coming days,” NWS states. “Sea conditions will become hazardous for the operation of small craft and dangerous for inter-island travel.”

Kosrae residents are advised to expect hazardous surf.

NWS released a coastal hazard advisory message for Kosrae at 3 p.m. yesterday. Kosrae can expect hazardous surf for the next several days from large westward swells producing high wind waves and heavy rainfall for both Kosrae and Phonpei.

Rainfall is expected to accumulate between 4 and 7 inches during the next couple of days.

Residents of Kosrae and Pohnpei are encouraged to monitor the situation and listen for statements or instructions from local emergency management offices.

Stay informed on its progress by following the latest statements or advisories issued by NWS at www.prh.noaa.gov/guam/.

GRMC: Regulatory processes delay opening of patient services

Monday, 29 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY ROBERT Q. TUPAZ | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

OFFICIALS of Guam Regional Medical City had announced that they expected to open their doors this month; however, with just one more day left in the calendar month, the hospital’s fifth and top floors remain under construction.

The hospital's ground floor and the first through third floors have met fire safety code requirements and were cleared by the Guam Fire Department earlier this month.

Kevin Kerrigan, communication officer at GRMC, explained that the hospital is traversing through the regulatory requirements of the government. He said GRMC’s opening date is dependent on the regulatory processes. “We’re hoping to open soon,” Kerrigan told the Variety yesterday. He added that the progress at this point is in the hands of the government.

Kerrigan declined further comment yesterday. GRMC CEO Margaret Bengzon remained optimistic that the hospital will open its doors soon despite the latest delays. “GRMC looks forward to announcing the start of patient services soon,” Bengzon stated in an email last Wednesday. “We are still working with our regulatory partners on final clearances.”

Joey Manibusan, GFD fire marshal, said the hospital passed its safety inspection checklist on the ground floor and first through third floors. “The hospital is good from the ground floor, first, second and third,” Manibusan stated.

He added that the hospital wants to also get occupancy for the fourth floor, which he explained GFD expects to inspect today. If the fourth floor is cleared, GRMC will apply with the Department of Public Works for partial occupancy of the ground floor and first through fourth floors.

Permit

Joseph Guevara, DPW building inspection and permits administrator, said GRMC and contractor dck Pacific LLC are attempting to obtain a building permit and partial occupancy permit at this stage.

He explained the hospital is simultaneously seeking permits for the as-built drawings and a full occupancy permit, but DPW cannot entertain the full occupancy permit request until it signs off on the as-built drawings. Once clearances are given by various agencies including the fire department, DPW will conduct a final inspection of the facility.

Guevara said compliance issues are almost entirely related to the safety of patients and employees.

Manibusan added that dck Pacific will have to work on completing elevator fire safety features and other specialized fire protection systems.

Guevara said DPW is also working with GRMC and dck Pacific. He indicated there had been some delays with the contractor submitting required paperwork. “We need them – dck – to submit the proper documents in a timely manner so that we can also approve it,” Guevara said.

Conditional

Thus far, DPW has only issued conditional occupancy permits to allow the hospital to move furniture onto the first three floors and train personnel inside the building, Guevara said.

The GRMC facility cost $215 million and has a 130-bed capacity. It is expected to employ up to 700 individuals once it is fully functional.

The government of Guam approved a qualifying certificate for a corporate tax income rebate for the hospital. The Guam Economic Development Authority, when it approved the QC, projected that the new hospital would generate $420 million in new tax revenues for the government of Guam, eclipsing the abatement of $170 million during the 20-year tax break period. The QC also allowed GRMC 100 percent in real property abatement for 10 years and a 75 percent corporate dividend tax rebate for five years.

GRMC is obligated to contribute $25 million to the community over the next 20 years with an initial requirement of $500,000 in community contributions required in the first year that they avail of the QC.


Education department requests $327M budget for fiscal 2016


Monday, 29 Jun 2015 03:00am


BY ROBERT Q. TUPAZ | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

THE Guam Department of Education will defend its fiscal 2016 budget request this morning during a budget hearing by the 33rd Guam Legislature’s Committee on Appropriations and Adjudication. GDOE is asking for a $93 million increase for the next fiscal year to serve more than 30,000 schoolchildren enrolled in its 26 elementary schools, eight middle schools, six high schools and one alternative school.

As well, the Guam Community College, University of Guam, Guam Election Commission, Office of Public Accountability and the Mayors’ Council of Guam will present their budget requests this week.

GDOE kicks off the education money talks today with a $327 million budget request for the upcoming fiscal year. GDOE creatively used the mandates of the Adequate Education Act to defend its request in its budget submission earlier this year which the Guam Education Board adopted.

14-point mandate

The Every Child Is Entitled to an Adequate Public Education Act specifies 14 legally mandated points that the island’s public school system must meet; if not met, GDOE could be held legally liable. The 14 points of the law call for a certified teacher for every classroom, textbooks for every course a student is enrolled in, potable water sufficient to provide each student with a daily ration of drinking and washing water, proper sanitation, and a healthy, safe and sanitary learning environment.

The law also requires GDOE to have certified administrators, guidance and health counselors, certified health professionals, air-conditioned classrooms, updated libraries, 180 days of instruction and timely bus transportation.

Having a certified teacher for every classroom comes out to be the most costly, at $135 million.

To ensure certified administrators run the schools, the education department says it needs $10.9 million. Certified health professionals and guidance and health counselors will tap some $10.7 million in revenue. Air-conditioning classrooms to a minimum 78 degrees Fahrenheit costs an estimated $2 million annually. And to ensure power, water and sanitary conditions are met, GDOE wants $21.4 million – a bulk of the amount, $15.5 million, is dedicated to power consumption.

Textbooks for the upcoming year is expected to cost $17.2 million, and operating libraries that meet the standards of the National Association of Libraries will cost $3.8 million. Student transportation is estimated to cost $662,000, in addition to the Department of Public Works’ budget.

The two final elements of the act will cost GDOE a combined $127 million to ensure a healthy, safe and sanitary learning environment and provide no less than 180 instructional days. Most of the cost is dedicated to upgrading and maintaining facilities.

In its budget submission, GDOE pointed out that a supplemental budget request of $21.3 million for this school year was necessary after being provided with $234 million. The Guam Education Board last year requested $298 million for the school system.


 


    

Small Business Expo brings community together

Posted: Jun 25, 2015   KUAM 

It was a showcase of local small business products and services. The Guam Chamber of Commerce held its annual expo and outreach event today at The Hyatt. The event featured a unique "match-making session," sort of like speed-dating, business style, where prime contractors were able to book a 15-minute sit-down with federal contracting officers.

Chamber president David Leddy told KUAM News, "It's all about strength in numbers. I think that when you have a business, it's a benefit to get to know your fellow businesses and interact with them because that helps expand your brand, expand awareness of your product and service."

Along with the networking opportunities, there was a forum entitled "we need your products." Private sector and local and federal government purchasing managers offered tips on what products and services were in demand, and how to become a vendor.

The chamber this evening also announced this year's Small Business Excellence Award, which went to Paradise Auto Spa.

 

Business expo provides networking for small businesses

Friday, 26 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY JULIUS CANTARA | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

THE 11th Annual Guam Chamber of Commerce Small Business Expo and Outreach yesterday allowed small businesses to meet with prime contractors face-to-face and present their products and services.

At the Hyatt Regency Guam, 33 local small businesses gathered to present exhibits to showcase their services to potential customers including prime contractors and representatives of government agencies. This year, the event held a business matchmaking session that provided the opportunity for small businesses to meet with prime contractors and federal contracting officers to discuss possible business plans and partnerships. 

According to Catherine Castro, vice president of the Guam Chamber of Commerce, among the prime contractors that were present at the session were Black Construction, Watts Constructors and Pernix Group. The session also included federal contracting officers from the Navy and Air Force.

“Prime contractors have to work with small businesses because that`s usually a part of their contract with the federal government,” said Castro. “This was very beneficial for anybody who wanted to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Throughout the event, attendees met with other businesses and exchanged business cards. According to Castro, the event attracts around 200 to 300 attendees every year and based on rough estimates, it appeared to have done so again.

“It (matchmaking) gives everyone an opportunity to meet face-to-face and to talk about their types of services, make referrals and maybe sign contracts,” said David Leddy, president of the chamber. “I`m very pleased with the turnout.”

New faces

The expo housed chamber members who showcased their businesses and shared information with attendees. Some of the small businesses that participated in the event were returning groups such as Graphic Center, a local printing company that makes business cards, letters, calendars  and brochures. The company had taken a few years off from the expo but returned this year to share their services with potential customers and business partners.

“It`s great to be back; we missed it,” said Jessie Rosario, vice president for sales and marketing of Graphic Center.

Other participants experienced their first time showcasing their business, including Laurent Wainer, co-owner of Green Endeavors. Wainer`s company sells alternative cleaning products and demonstrated sample products.

“We (Green Endeavors) sell replacement cleaning products, getting rid of the toxic, dangerous chemicals that industries have long used and think are the only solutions,” said Wainer. “And we replace them with safe and benign, but industrial strong and cost-effective (products).”


Solid waste tipping fees likely to increase to cover landfill costs

Friday, 26 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY MAR-VIC CAGURANGAN | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

UNLESS monthly tipping fees for trash collections are raised, the government will have to tap the general fund to cover a larger portion of the annual $15.7 million debt service and the future costs related to landfill maintenance, the Office of Public Accountability said in a report released yesterday.

The Guam Solid Waste Authority currently charges commercial customers $172 per month, $30 for residential customers and $7.50/$15 for residential transfer stations. OPA said the rates are not sufficient to cover the annual payments of Section 30-backed bonds and future projects estimated to cost more than $100 million.

The government of Guam borrowed $202 million from the bond market in 2009. Of this amount, $139 million was earmarked for the shutdown of Ordot Dump and the opening of the new Layon Landfill, which were both carried out by the court-appointed federal receiver, Gershman Brickner & Bratton Inc. (GBB).

Based on public law, the tipping fees collected by the receiver and reimbursed to the government should cover 76 percent of the debt service, which began in 2013.

“Of the $15.7 million debt service, only $2.2 million came from the receiver,” OPA said. “In May 2014, the receiver suspended its monthly reimbursements in order to fund additional capital projects.”

In 2012, GBB recommended that tipping rates be raised to $225 for commercial customers and $35 for residential customers.

Revenue decline

OPA said the government of Guam solid waste operating fund posted a modest increase in fund balance of $1 million and $14.9 million in retained earnings in fiscal 2014.

“Collectively, the fund balance of $62.4 million decreased by $26.9 million from $89.3 million in FY 2013 due primarily to capital projects expenditures,” OPA said.

The audit also found a 6 percent decline in combined revenues, from $18.8 million in fiscal 2013 to $17.7 million the following year.

Tipping fees went down from $19 million to $17.7 million during the audit period.

OPA attributed the decline to a $643,000 increase in “the allowance for uncollectible accounts and recognition of delinquent tipping fees collected in 2013.”

Future liabilities

The Layon Landfill, which opened in September 2011, consists of 11 cells with a capacity of more than 15.8 million cubic yards and an estimated life span of 50 years. Two cells, which are projected to last 10 years, are currently in operation. The landfill is included in the government-wide financial statements at a total cost of $106 million, the OPA report states.

“Estimated future costs for the Layon Landfill closure is $109.3 million. As of Sept. 30, 2014, post-closure care liability of $3 million has been recorded at the government-wide level based on 2.75 percent estimated landfill usage,” OPA said. “GovGuam will recognize the remaining estimated cost of $106.3 million based on its landfill usage until the remaining capacity is filled.”

OPA estimates that the post-closure care for Ordot Dump will be $22.6 million. “Actual cost for the Layon Landfill and Ordot Dump may be higher due to inflation, changes in technology and regulations,” the audit report said.

No screening for commuter flights

Friday, 26 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY ANSALL MENO | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

A NEW light-aircraft terminal is to begin operation at the A.B. Won Pat International Airport starting July 1. Rolenda Faasuamalie, airport marketing administrator, said the new facility will not require passengers be screened, making check-in times quicker for flights heading to Rota, Tinian and Saipan.

The facility, which was an air cargo warehouse, is located between the United Airlines office building and the main terminal. Airport officials said they expect the facility to be in operation on July 1.

“It was discussed – not having screening required for nine- passenger or less, 12,500-pound aircraft,” Faasuamalie said. “Star Marianas (air carrier company) has been interested in providing service.”

Faasuamalie said when the airport readied the facility, they had to acquire the cooperation of airport partners including Guam Customs and Quarantine and the Transportation Security Administration.

“It’s taken a considerable effort. Before it was just a warehouse and discussions started in December of last year on acquiring a site which also adhered to FAA regulations,” Faasuamalie said. “Access to parking was also taken into consideration when determining a suitable site.”

She said travelers can take advantage of the new facility by bypassing all of the usual airport security checkpoints. “It’s been a request from some operators. Checking in will be quicker and more convenient for fliers,” Faasuamalie said.

She said Cape Air, which also provides commercial flights to Saipan, will not be participating due to their planes’ 36-passenger capacity. Cape Air is partnered with United Airlines to provide the service.

According to Star Marianas Air Inc.’s webpage, it currently offers flights between Rota, Tinian and Saipan. Its headquarters is located in Hangar 1 at the West Tinian International Airport.

Star Marianas Air Inc. was incorporated August 2006 under the name Star Aviation Inc. In 2008, the name was changed to Star Marianas Air Inc.

                 

GRMC still awaits permits

Thursday, 25 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY JASMINE STOLE | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

GOVERNMENT agencies have one word when it comes to clearing Guam Regional Medical City for its official launch, and it’s not “soon.”

Guam Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Joe Manibusan said the hospital is “progressing” toward getting final clearance from the fire department.

Joseph Guevara, building inspection and permits administrator of the Department of Public Works, said GRMC and contractor dck Pacific LLC are now “going through the process” of obtaining a building permit and a full occupancy permit.

DPW and the fire department are two of several agencies that have to clear the new hospital before it can launch operations, according to Guevara. While DPW has the final word, other departments including the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Public Health and Social Services, Department of Revenue and Taxation, Department of Land Management, Department of Chamorro Affairs and utility agencies must give their approval for the GRMC facility, specific to each agency’s jurisdiction.

Before GRMC can launch operations, it must first get a building permit based on the as-built drawings of the facility. The building permit is the first step, Guevara said. There are pages and pages of the as-built drawings to review and it must be cleared by all regulatory agencies first.

According to Guevara, contractor dck Pacific submitted this drawing a week and a half ago. “When you’re talking a large-scale project, it’s not like looking at a blueprint for a home,” Guevara said of the as-built drawings. “It’s going to take longer because just the drawings alone, can you imagine how many pages there are?”

Next step

The next step is to obtain a full occupancy permit.

Guevara said GRMC is simultaneously seeking permits for the as-built drawings and a full occupancy permit, but DPW cannot entertain the full occupancy permit request until it signs off on the as-built drawings.

Both building and full occupancy permits must also be cleared by several government agencies. Guevara said before DPW can conduct a final inspection of the facility, all other agencies must provide clearance.

The bottom line is safety for patients and employees, Guevara said.

Manibusan, too, said GFD’s chief concern is to ensure the private hospital meets safety standards. “We are working with the hospital to ensure their systems are safe for our community,” Manibusan said.

Before GFD can complete its inspection, the contractor dck Pacific will have to work on completing elevator fire safety features and other specialized fire protection systems, Manibusan said. “The fire protection systems are dependent on their contractor not GFD,” he said.

Earlier this month, GRMC officials announced they would open their doors to patients sometime this month. GRMC CEO Maragaret Bengzon said in an emailed statement yesterday, “GRMC looks forward to announcing the start of patient services soon. We are still working with our regulatory partners on final clearances.”

Guevara said DPW is also working with GRMC and contractor dck Pacific. “Our goal is to help because it is great for Guam to have a new hospital,” he said. “But we need their help, too. We need them – dck – to submit the proper documents in a timely manner so that we can also approve it.”

As of close of business yesterday, DPW had not yet issued a building permit or full occupancy permit to the hospital, Guevara said.

DPW has only issued conditional occupancy permits to allow the hospital to move furniture onto the first three floors and train personnel inside the building, Guevara said.

  

Judge sentences Fitial to one year imprisonment

Thursday, 25 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY ANDREW O. DE GUZMAN | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

FORMER Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Benigno Fitial was ordered by CNMI Superior Court Judge David Wiseman to report to the CNMI Department of Corrections before July 6 to begin serving his term of one year in prison.

Wiseman originally imposed the maximum jail sentence of six years' imprisonment on Fitial for conspiracy to commit theft of services, all suspended, except one year.

For misconduct in public office, the 69-year-old Fitial received the maximum sentence of one year of jail, all suspended, except for 30 days that will be served concurrently.

The judge imposed a total of $6,000 in fines for the two offenses to which Fitial admitted – coordinating and executing the provision of an “armed escort” to then-Attorney General Edward Buckingham so he could avoid being served with a judicial summons and a copy of a criminal complaint by the Office of the Public Auditor, and for ordering the release of his female masseuse from the CNMI Department of Corrections, who was under the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for human smuggling charges, so she could give him a massage due to what Fitial described as “agonizing pain.”

Parole

The jail sentence was not covered by any restrictions such as parole or release programs, which means Fitial may apply for parole after serving one-third, or 122 days, of his sentence.

Governor’s press secretary Ivan Blanco said the administration expects to issue a statement today.

Upon release from prison, the judge said Fitial will be placed on one year of probation and is permanently barred from re-employment, directly or indirectly, with the CNMI government.

When asked by Wiseman if he wanted to address the court, Fitial said: “First, I would like to thank all the people who have submitted their letters of support on my behalf. I would also like to address my family, to ask for their pardon for the wrong that I did, that really made them very stressful for a long period of time. I would like to extend my sincere apology to my family members and also to those friends who stood behind me for all these years. I would like to also ask for your forgiveness, your honor, for breaking the law. I ask for your just and merciful consideration.”

Fitial was accompanied by wife Josie, family members, relatives and a host of supporters.

OPA legal counsel George Hasselback asked the court to impose a two-year sentence for conspiracy to commit theft of services, while Chief Prosecutor Leonardo Rapadas recommended a sentence of one year consecutively for misconduct in public office.

Fitial’s defense attorney, Stephen Nutting, asked for a suspended sentence, pointing out the medical condition of his client, his accomplishments while in the private and public sectors, while asking the court to look into the sentence imposed by Judge Kenneth Govendo on Buckingham, who was convicted on corruption charges.

When penal summons and criminal complaints were separately filed against them, Nutting pointed out that Buckingham left the CNMI, was declared a fugitive by the court and was arrested in the U.S., and went to trial. Fitial, though, returned to Saipan and accepted responsibility, according to Nutting.

Buckingham received three and a half years in jail, all suspended, paid a $14,000 fine that was deducted from his $50,000 bail and was barred from working in the CNMI government for 20 years.

‘Ethical failure’

In a statement in court before pronouncing a jail sentence for Fitial, Wiseman said that based on the “original 13 charges filed against (Fitial), they represented that perhaps you were responsible for a culture of ethical failure in your office.”

“The crimes committed here were grave,” Wiseman said. “It calls for a sanction corresponding significance. This is because the court is entrusted with an obligation to deter others from committing the same crimes.”

Room reservations for Dusit Thani Guam Resort now accepted

Wednesday, 24 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY JASMINE STOLE | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

THE long-awaited luxury hotel Dusit Thani Guam Resort in Tumon is starting to accept reservations for hotel rooms beginning on July 1, according to the hotel’s website.

Dusit Thani officials did not confirm a soft opening date yesterday. The company is advertising room rates that are part of an opening special promotion, starting at $278 a night, excluding taxes and fees. According to the hotel’s website, the rates are discounted at 20 percent for this opening promotion.

Dusit Thani General Manager Dean Huntsman said in April the hotel expected to hold a soft opening sometime this month. The soft opening would include opening 200 rooms for guests, according to hotel officials. Dusit Thani will offer more than 400 rooms in total.

After the passage of Typhoon Dolphin on May 15, the hotel soft opening was again pushed back to a later time, although an opening date was not specified, according to Mindy Aguon, Dusit Thani public relations manager. Earlier this month, Aguon said the hotel was in “the homestretch” and would be opening doors and welcoming guests soon.

Throughout the rest of the year, additional rooms, dining and entertainment venues, a convention center and banquet facilities will be opening as well. Aguon said official opening events will take place later this year.

Dusit is offering an oceanfront twin room with a view of Tumon Bay from a private balcony for $278 a night and deluxe oceanfront room for $328 a night. The most expensive room available for guests is a 43-square-meter Dusit Club oceanfront room. It features two double beds, an “en-suite bathroom with premium amenities” and costs $487 a night, without taxes.

The special opening promotion prices are valid from July 1 through September, according to the website.

In April, Huntsman said he expected room rates to be higher than other hotel room rates because the hotel is considered a five-star facility.

Dusit Thani Guam Resort will be 30 stories and feature the island’s largest convention center. It is part of Dusit International, a resort development company based in Thailand that offers hundreds of luxury hotels, resorts and apartments throughout the Asian region, according to the Dusit website.

In April, 142 people had been hired to work at the hotel, almost half of the estimated 350 positions available. Aguon said in April that interviews were being conducted on a daily basis.

Senator: Plan for new public hospital expected in three weeks

Wednesday, 24 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY JASMINE STOLE | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

THE task force formed under the guidance of Sen. Dennis Rodriguez to develop plans for a new public hospital will likely have a report proposing two options in three weeks, according to the senator.

In April, the senator unveiled his task force’s intent to develop a plan of action for a new state-of-the-art public hospital for Guam within 60 days.

“I know that we may be a little delayed. We had 60 days from the first meeting which is going to be next week. But it’ll be probably another two weeks to come up with the report. From there, that’s where legislative action will be needed,” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez said he plans to introduce another bill related to the upcoming report for a new public hospital after the report is complete. Financing another public hospital has to be part of the legislation, Rodriguez said.

The report will have at least two options, the details of which will be released later, the senator said.

“There are a lot of options that we took a look at,” the senator said. “If you take a look at other states, that is the trend now, that government is getting out of operations of hospitals and having private partnerships or outright having private hospitals.”

In April, Rodriguez said at a press conference that the task force would be developing a plan of action with a business model that included potential public-private partnership to ensure long-term financial sustainability and plans to privatize certain hospital services.

While he opted not to speak for the task force as a whole, Rodriguez said he personally thinks the hospital needs a new business model.

Assistance

Rodriguez said the task force has received some assistance from Roseann Jones, an economics professor at the University of Guam. “She has a lot of information in terms of the health care industry. Whatever we do with the hospital, we need to take a look at the whole picture,” Rodriguez said. “I asked her to help and I think she’s a perfect fit.”

While he said he has not received feedback from his colleagues in the 33rd Guam Legislature, Rodriguez said he hopes fellow senators are supportive of the plan.

“I’m hoping that it’s well-received by my colleagues and also by the community,” he said. “Because for decades this model that we have to run a hospital is something we also need to improve.”

Rodriguez said the hospital’s main challenge has been finding funding. “That’s what we’ve been doing for years, decades. Maybe it’s time to look at other possibilities,” he said.

For decades, GMH has been operating in the red because, among other problems, GMH is obligated to serve all patients, even those who do not have the ability to fully pay for services, according hospital officials.

While his colleagues may have not offered feedback to the senator, at least one government official is hopeful about a new public hospital. Days after Rodriguez introduced the task force for a new public hospital, Gov. Eddie Calvo said of building a new hospital in five years, “I’m an optimist; I think we can.”

In April, Rodriguez said he would like to see a brand new GMH facility within the next four to five years.

Newly appointed GMH Administrator Ted Lewis said he thinks the senator’s task force is “on the right track.”

“Everyone realizes the facility needs to be upgraded,” Lewis said.

The task force has been meeting and they have an upcoming meeting this week, Rodriguez said. Members of the task force include Fitness Solutions President Anthony Sgro; Bank of Guam CEO Lou Leon Guerrero; Tina Garcia, Guam Economic Development Authority public finance manager; Rich Huang, president of American Chocolate Factory; Joey Calvo, Bureau of Budget Management and Research director; Lester Carlson, Bureau of Budget and Management Research deputy director; David John, president of ASC Trust; Chris Felix, president of Century 21 Realty Management; Rene Ramos, president of MedPharm Group; Jenny Cruz, president of Guam Memorial Hospital Volunteers Association; and Benita Manglona, GMH chief financial officer.


Stronger rules on pot sought

Saturday, 20 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY JULIUS CANTARA | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

DPHSS improves medical marijuana draft regulations

THE Department of Public Health and Social Services is exploring options to strengthen the regulations related to the use of medical marijuana on Guam, officials said yesterday.

“We want to make sure (the program) benefits the patients it`s supposed to and at the same time provide security and safety for the community that may be concerned that medical marijuana is an option,” said Michelle Lastimoza, environmental health officer.

She is one of the public health officials who went to Arizona last month to observer its facilities and learn how the program works.

DPHSS’s draft rules and regulations were patterned after the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which went into effect April 2011.

At a presentation yesterday, Lastimoza, Rosanna Rabago, administrator of the Environmental Public Health Office, and Cynthia Naval, planner, discussed the proposed additions to the draft, which they said could improve Guam's medical marijuana regulations.

The DPHSS will revise the draft and hold a public hearing by the end of July.

ID card

During their visit, the staff noted that the medical marijuana identification card application process for the Arizona program was done online with no face-to-face interaction between employees and applicants. DPHSS is looking into creating a system where patients or caregivers applying for an identification card will meet with a DPHSS staff member, they said.

“We will confirm that (the patients) have a certification from a physician who says they have the disease,” Naval said. “Patients would be assisted when applying.”

The public health staff said the Arizona dispensary employees were not medical professionals and their training was not standardized.

Training

Another addition to the draft is to require all dispensary agents to have standardized training that will be conducted by the medical director of the dispensary. This additional requirement is designed to ensure patients with a specific condition coming into the dispensary will be assisted with proper medical advice. No training plan has been mapped out or turned in yet as the rules and regulations are still in draft form.

There will also be background checks for the dispensary personnel and caregivers, to ensure they do not have any excluded felony on their records.

According to Naval, lab testing of medical cannabis was not a required component in Arizona`s rules and regulations. DPHSS will look into and recommend that it be required to have the medical marijuana tested so to ensure the safety of consumers.

In the testing lab, the cannabis is examined for fungus and other potentially harmful disease-causing pathogens. The testing is also meant to determine the chemical makeup for the products sold at the dispensary.

For now, the law specifies only nine medical conditions for which a patient may receive medical marijuana once the law is enacted and DPHSS develops the regulations. These conditions include cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, damage to nervous tissue of spinal cord, epilepsy, HIV or AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, rheumatoid arthritis or similar chronic autoimmune inflammatory disorders and for patients admitted to hospice care.

Under the law, patients are banned from cultivating medical marijuana and DPHSS said medical cannabis, even seeds, cannot be imported from other locations.

“We must rely on marijuana that is already grown here,” Naval said.

Defense spending continues

Monday, 22 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY ROBERT Q. TUPAZ | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

Realignment projections not affected by ROD delay

IN SPITE of the delayed record of decision (ROD) for the military buildup, a program status update by the Guam Buildup Office prepared in April projects $689 million in defense spending for military construction on Guam.

Of that amount, at least $91 million in new money is expected as projected in the defense appropriations. According to an annual economic impact summary report of federal/military contribution, $436 million in budgeted funds await the release of the ROD as the funds are slated for multiple projects related to the relocation of Marines to the island.

Of the $91 million, $45.7 million is hoped to be realized for a sanitary sewer system recapitalization initiative. Another $9.6 million was requested for the construction of corrosion control/composite repair hangar and $7.1 million projected for phase 2 of the Asia-Pacific resiliency south ramp utilities.

The buildup office notes with a disclaimer that the 2016 forecast “is for informational marketing purposes only. There is no specific offer or commitment from the Navy to fund, in whole or in part, the opportunities referenced.”

An accompanying economic outlook summary written by Gary Hiles, chief economist at the Guam Department of Labor, noted the funding levels – which dipped since the onset of the realignment announcement but peaked again in fiscal 2014 – are expected to regain momentum.

“Since FY 2010, some appropriations related to the Marine Corps relocation were restricted by law until additional plans and studies were submitted to the U.S. Congress,” Hiles stated. “The appropriations for military construction from the U.S. government and the government of Japan increased steadily each year from FY 2008 through FY 2010 reaching a peak of just over $1.2 billion. The totals dropped off dramatically from FY 2011, rebounded in FY 2014, but dropped again in FY 2015.”

“Contracted amounts were well below the appropriated amounts,” he added, “leaving approximately $1.4 billion of the $1.5 billion in appropriations from Japan available. The second Japan-funded contract was awarded in 2014 based on a statutory exemption from the hold placed on the expenditure of Japan funds. This hold was lifted in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, making the remaining appropriated Japan funds available for contracting.”

Hiles explained that previous plans to award a Multiple Award Construction Contract (MACC) for Japan funds is no longer planned to be the contracting mechanism. He said the process would be more beneficial and allow for a continued positive forecast. “This change removes an administrative contracting process which could have further delayed the contracts for Japan funds. Japan-funded DoD projects are expected to be contracted under the existing MACC contract authorizations.”

Release of the ROD was expected this week; however, it is pending further discussion on ecological issues affecting one of Guam’s endangered species. U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Department of the Navy will have to come to an agreement. “Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are continuing consultation to ensure suitable recovery habitat is conserved in northern Guam to support the re-introduction and ultimate recovery of the Guam Micronesian kingfisher,” said Maj. Darren Alvarez, deputy director of the Joint Guam Program Office.
Alvarez said the ROD is expected to be released in the summer, shortly after the release of the final supplemental environmental impact statement, which details the proposed actions and alternatives related to the Marines’ relocation from Okinawa to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The ROD – which represents the final step in the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Protection Act – outlines the Navy’s final decisions on the proposed realignment actions along with the corresponding mitigation measures.


Guam EPA identifies 10 polluted beaches

Monday, 22 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY ANSALL MENO | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

THE Guam Environmental Protection Agency analyzed 44 water samples taken from several beaches on the island and found that 10 beaches are polluted beyond accepted bacteriological standards. Two of the beaches are located in the central region of Guam while the remaining are located in the south.

In the central area, the west storm drain at the Hagåtña Bayside Park in the West Hagåtña Bay was identified along with the waters surrounding Pago Bay located in the Ordot-Chalan Pago district.

The southern beaches that were identified as polluted were in Piti Bay, the Toguan Bay in Umatac, Mamoan Channel (Merizo Pier) in Merizo, Inarajan Bay, and Talofofo Bay.

Guam EPA listed 14 beaches under advisory last week and added five more to the list on May 28.

Swimming, fishing or playing in unsafe waters may result in minor illnesses such as sore throats or diarrhea. It may also result in more serious illnesses such as meningitis, encephalitis or severe gastroenteritis.

Children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems have a greater chance of getting sick when they come in contact with contaminated water, according to information provided by EPA.

The Recreational Waters Pollution Report is compiled by Guam EPA’s Environmental Monitoring and Analytical Services Division. Since 1974, EPA has performed this community service weekly.

The Environmental Monitoring and Analytical Services Division takes water samples of 44 recreational beaches every Thursday and analyzes the samples for concentrations of the enterococcus bacteria indicator.

Advisories are based on an instantaneous standard of not greater than 104 enterococci/100 milliliters and a geometric mean standard of not greater than 35 enterococci/100 ml.


SKIP Entertainment Company ties for 1st in Barcelona

Posted: Jun 21, 2015   By Joan Aguon Charfauros   KUAM

A big congratulations goes out to SKIP Entertainment Company who recently competed in Barcelona, Spain and tied for 1st place overall. The dance troupe also took 1st in the Hip-Hop and Jazz categories!

Way to go, SKIP!

Guam museum endures multiple setbacks

Posted: Jun 19, 2015   KUAM

While the construction of the Guam and Chamorro Educational Facility continues to take shape, it's also had its share of setbacks and has experienced numerous delays. "Basically, she stressed - there's poor planning involved," noted GEDA administrator John Rios, referring to the recent weekly address by Speaker Judi Won Pat outlining several issues with the construction of Guam's first permanent museum.

He added, "A number of things occurred throughout the course of the Facility's construction that hampered it. This results in the project ultimately exhausting its $1.1 million set aside for change orders."

Rios says for a project of this size, it's not that bad considering the $27 million budget, adding, "So if you're looking at a million-dollar change order, you're only looking at about 4.5% in change orders, which is pretty low compared to like if somebody is doing a hotel or stuff they would put about a 10-15% contingency amount." Rios says the change orders include strengthening the building by reinforcing and adding more piles.

Won Pat meanwhile says it was the location that was also a problem, explaining, "Early in the Museum's conception, we were warned about the old swampland in the now-decided Hagatna location. However, we idealized the Museum in historic Hagatna despite the fact. We are now paying for this decision, literally."

In order to accommodate poor soil bearings, a deep foundational piling system had to be constructed. She says the Guam Legislature is "racing to find additional funding for the museum and meet the promise to be functioning in time for the Festival of the Pacific Arts". Rios added, "There could always be better planning but with a site like the museum site, it's close to the water, it's not until you start doing other tests that you'll find that a change order is needed."

Won Pat meanwhile says the goal is to make a "proper preservation and cultural education institution that our children will be inspired by," adding, "If there is a lesson to be learned from the building of the Guam and Chamorro Educational Facility, it's that we should've been more knowledgeable throughout its conception and construction."

Construction is set to be completed by December 29.

      

Navy pushes back ROD release

Friday, 19 Jun 2015 03:00am

BY MAR-VIC CAGURANGAN | VARIETY NEWS STAFF

THE Department Navy has pushed back the release of the record of decision (ROD) on the military buildup, pending further discussion on ecological issues affecting one of Guam’s endangered species, a military official said yesterday.

“Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are continuing consultation to ensure suitable recovery habitat is conserved in northern Guam to support the  re-introduction and ultimate recovery of the Guam Micronesian kingfisher,” said Maj. Darren Alvarez, deputy director of the Joint Guam Program Office.

Alvarez said the ROD is expected to be released in the summer, shortly after the release of the final supplemental environmental impact statement, which details the proposed actions and alternatives related to the Marines’ relocation from Okinawa to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The ROD – which represents the final step in the environmental review process required under the National Environmental Protection Act – outlines the Navy’s final decisions on the proposed realignment actions along with the corresponding mitigation measures.

Both documents were scheduled for release this month.

When asked if the delay in ROD release would have any impact on the schedule of the Marines’ relocation plan, Alvarez replied, “None that we are aware of at this time.”

Revised plan

The draft document, which supplements the final EIS for the planned transfer of 5,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, expands the scope of the study for the proposed live-fire training range complex on Guam based on the 2012 adjustments made to the program.

Alvarez said the Navy's preferred alternative is to construct and operate a cantonment at Naval Base Guam Telecommunications Site in Finegayan, family housing at Andersen Air Force Base and a live-fire training range complex at Northwest Field.

Alvarez said the new alternative combination moves the preferred family housing location from NCTS Finegayan to Andersen, while maintaining the main cantonment at NCTS Finegayan.

“This new alternative combination is essentially a combination of cantonment and housing alternatives already analyzed in the draft SEIS,” Alvarez said. “It also moves the preferred housing location from an undeveloped area that was part of the overlay refuge to an area that is already developed for family housing, thus avoiding the impacts to the recovery habitat present in the southern portion of NCTS Finegayan.

Alvarez said locating the housing at Andersen would provide the opportunity for the Air Force to recapitalize its existing housing for the Marines and their families and share support services such as the commissary and exchange. This plan would result in a long-term cost savings to the Department of Defense, he said.

However, Alvarez said the preferred alternative may still change depending on the outcome of further environmental assessments. “A final decision will not be made until all alternatives are analyzed and the final SEIS has been completed,” he said.

The original record of decision for the final EIS was signed on Sept. 20, 2010. The supplemental study was mandated by a federal court as the result of a lawsuit that challenged the selection of Pågat as the site of the live-fire training complex.