Journal Staff

The 2021 Assembly of Planners Symposium, to be held on Aug. 18 and Aug. 19 at the Dusit Thani Resort Guam, may be the first major Government of Guam conference since before the island closed in March last year.

“The last planning symposium, held in February 2020, was the last big government conference before the shutdown,” Tyrone J. Taitano, director of the Guam Bureau of Statistics and Plans, told the Journal.

The upcoming conference could be the first big such event since then. “All other conferences have been very, very small, or virtual. Even at 100 [people], I think it will mark the first big conference since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Taitano said.

The symposium will feature speakers, panels, and breakout sessions to discuss several planning operations throughout Guam. Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero will make opening remarks on the first day, and the keynote address will be given by Prof. Karl Kim of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawaii Manoa. Afterwards, the newly formed Guam Silver Jackets will lead a presentation on the causes of flooding and potential solutions. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supports state-led Silver Jackets teams through its Flood Risk Management Program.

Other presentations and sessions at the symposium include a presentation from the American Institute of Architects Guam and Micronesia on designing smart growth solutions for architectural matters, three breakout sessions led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the AIA Guam and Micronesia, and the Bureau of Statistics and Plans with Julian Janssen of BSP, a briefing by BSP on issues such as the seashore protection plan, and a series of zero-waste program presentations, including one on biosolids.

“Guam Waterworks Authority produces 8,000 tons per year of biosolids, which come out of sewage treatment plants, and they spend about $1.5 million every year to have them put into the landfill,” Taitano said. “At the last planning symposium in February of last year, we had a field trip to a demonstration project at the commercial port that took some biosolids and put them into a composting operation to convert it into potting soil that could be used for forestry, gardening, and agriculture as well.”

Taitano said he hopes that this research will help foster private sector involvement and partnership in developing a biosolids composting facility on an industrial scale in order to reduce the pressure on water rates by reducing the cost for the disposition of biosolids by the Guam Waterworks Authority. This would save taxpayers money by diverting these biosolids away from the landfill and create more private sector jobs.

The first day of the symposium will end with another zero-waste presentation on a green roadways project, which uses plastic, pulverized glass, and aggregate from construction to be used in future road construction and closing remarks.

The second day of the symposium focuses on Pacific Risk Management ‘Ohana, an organization of island communities throughout the Pacific designed to coordinate and disseminate information for recovery efforts or responding to natural disasters and other hazards, for example, typhoons. The keynote speaker will be Colby Stanton, the current chairman of Pacific Risk Management ‘Ohana and the director of readiness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Region IX’ Pacific area, based in Hawaii. Michelle Beasley, federal disaster recovery officer of the recovery division of Region IX, will also speak on the American Rescue Plan Act.

Tyrone J. Taitano, director of the Bureau of Statistics and Plans; Joseph M. Borja, director of the Department of Land Management; and Jack E. Hattig III, administrative director of the Chamorro Land Trust Commission; speak during the session on Guam land at the Planners Symposium on Feb. 20, 2020, at the Dusit Thani Guam Resort.
Journal file photo

The second day will also feature a panel on the challenges and opportunities of disaster recovery in regard to COVID-19 and major typhoons that may affect Guam in the future. Panelists include David Cruz, director of recovery at the Office of the Governor, William B. Aydlett, lead forecaster of the National Weather Service Guam, who is also the lead forecaster and tropical cyclone focal point, and lead meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Robert Pesapane, FEMA Region IX recovery division director and deputy federal coordinating officer for COVID-19 operations, and Kathryn Lipiecki, FEMA Region IX mitigation division director. The day will also feature three breakout sessions on pre-disaster recovery planning.

“There are a number of goals here for the planning symposium,” Taitano said. “One is the obvious dissemination of information, what’s happening in various planning operations throughout the island. The other is to create a place to come together to discuss these issues and, more importantly, point the way toward solutions. The third thing is also just to be presenting information on what’s happening in planning operations, but also for the general public.”

Last year’s symposium was taped by PBS Guam and was aired on public television and government channels for both cable stations for several weeks in 2020. There are also videos of the proceedings available on the Guam Coastal Management YouTube channel, including videos of the biosolids composting demonstration.

“By recording the proceedings and disseminating through the internet, the cable channels, and public television, it’s meant to bring the community itself into these discussions as well,” Taitano said. “When you take a look at all these issues, they’re not really the sort of issues that can be resolved by any single agency, or any single government. It really takes a collaborative effort of local government agencies, federal agencies and the community itself. Ultimately, you’re not going to resolve these issues without the involvement of the community on some level. That’s why outreach is such a big part of what the [Bureau of Statistics and Plans] does and a number of these agencies do their own programs. This seems to create a great opportunity in a way that is accessible, that is understandable, and that gets to the heart of issues that people care about.”

Taitano said that registration for the symposium is now open to speakers and panelists and will open to public registration soon. There will be limited available seats, estimated at 100. In order to stick to that maximum capacity under COVID-19 regulations, the symposium will not feature displays, booths, tables, or exhibitions this year.

“That would add more people,” he said. “We really can’t do that because we’re trying to limit actual attendance. There may be unmanned displays of some sort. We’ll see how that goes, but no booths that are manned by one organization or another. In previous symposiums, there had been. There’s limited practicality of that, so it’s not really an option this year. If the requirements change, because we made so much progress with COVID, we’ll see what happens. If the numbers expand, that’s something we may consider, but under the current standards, we don’t think it’s a practical option.”

Despite the limitations this year, Taitano is optimistic about the symposium.

“Part of the process here is to be informative, certainly at the forefront, but to be informative with a purpose of developing and arriving at and actually executing solutions to some of the problems, challenges, and issues that are discussed. So that’s why we do it.”

According to Journal files, the first planning symposium was held in 2016. mbj