U.S. military presence in Palau continues

U.S. Marines and sailors with the 1 (first) Marine Expeditionary Force who were in Palau as part of Task Force Koa Moana 2022, continued construction for the second year on the Joint Range Complex in the state of Ngchesar, this year from June 27 to July 15, according to a July 20 post by the Marine Corps. Ngchesar is located on the south-central east coast of the state of Babeldaob, in Palau,

The Joint Range Complex is a firing range where U.S. military and Palauan law enforcement can conduct firearms training and consists of a shooting range of 250 feet in length and 135 feet in width and a single building being used as a range house. Future work will include solar panel installation, ventilation, plumbing, and overall expansion of the complex, according to the story, posted for public dissemination on July 20. “This year we finished up the second phase by making improvements to the existing structure and range. There are discussions on future plans to add a building and continue expansion to the JRC,” Gunnery Sgt. Monica Knight, the utilities chief with the task force, is quoted as saying in the post.

Also in Palau and also the subject of a post, was a Boeing P-8a Poseidon. Patrol Squadron Eight is a U.S. Navy land-based patrol squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., currently operating from Naval Air Facility Misawa, on deployment.  

U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Brayan Cordovagonzalez – a heavy equipment operator with Task Force Koa Moana 22, I Marine Expeditionary Force – flattens gravel using a compactor during the construction of the Joint Range Complex in Ngchesar, Republic of Palau on July 5.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Gadiel Zaragoza

In related U.S. military news of exercises, 26 countries – including the U.S. as host, are taking part in the naval exercise – Rim of the Pacific 2022, or RIMPAC, through Aug. 4 in and around Hawaiian Islands and Southern California, according to the U.S. Navy. Some countries are represented by ground elements or as observers. RIMPAC 2022 began at the end of June.

 

Guam utility agency receives stable rating

Fitch Ratings has affirmed the rating on Guam Waterworks Authority obligations at ‘BBB’, according to a July 20 release from Fitch.

The Rating Outlook was classified as Stable. “The ‘BBB’ bond rating and [Issuer Default Rating] reflects GWA’s elevated leverage, measured as net adjusted debt to adjusted funds available for debt service, within the framework of strong revenue defensibility and a manageable operating risk profile,” Fitch said.

Second quarter fiscal updates:

Matson Inc. announced its preliminary second quarter results on July. 19. The shipping company expects its second quarter operating income for Ocean Transportation to be $465 million to $470 million, second quarter operating income for Logistics to be $22.5 million to $23.5 million and second quarter net income and diluted earnings per share to be $373.3 million to $377.9 million and $9.31 to $9.42 respectively.

Matthew Cox, chairman and CEO of Matson, said Guam and Hawaii saw “softer volumes” compared to the same quarter a year ago. Guam volume was 7% lower primarily due to lower retail-related demand, Matson said.

“Matson performed well in the second quarter 2022 with higher year-over-year operating income in both Ocean Transportation and Logistics,” Cox said.

Find the report at https://investor.matson.com

United Airlines announced July 21 that total operating revenue was up 6% in the second quarter of 2022, over the same quarter in 2019. The airline expects an increase of 11% in the third quarter versus the same quarter in 2019. United reported second quarter 2022 net income of $329 million, adjusted net income of $471 million, that second quarter 2022 capacity down was down 15% compared to second quarter 2019, and second quarter 2022 total operating revenue of $12.1 billion, was up 6% compared to second quarter 2019. Find the report here: https://www.united.com/en/us/newsroom/announcements/cision-125231. The Investor Update is also available through the company’s investor relations website at https://ir.united.com.

 

Infectious diseases updates:

The Federated States of Micronesia announced cases of COVID-19 within the country – seven in Pohnpei and 35 in Kosrae, in a July 19 release from the Office of the President.

“To the knowledge of the FSM Government, all public services will remain open,” the release said. The release also said, “This is a rapidly evolving situation and the information within this release should be assumed to be out of date upon its publication.”

Palau is seeing an increase in influenza cases at the Belau National Hospital, as announced by the Ministry of Health and Human Services. Laboratory testing has confirmed Influenza A confirmed in 38 patients since 28 June, according to a July 19 posting. Children and adolescents account for most cases. 

Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau continue to see positive COVID-19 cases, with each island continuing to offer testing and vaccination.

 

Small business updates:

Community First Guam Federal Credit Union announced July 14 it received a “$10 million secondary capital investment from the U.S. Department of Treasury as part of the [U.S.] Treasury’s Emergency Capital Investment Program.” The program – established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, was created to encourage community financial institutions to support small businesses and low-to-moderate-income households in their communities.

Secondary capital gives credit unions additional cash to expand loan portfolios, assets, and services. Gerard Cruz, president and CEO of Community First, said the credit union has raised secondary capital before.

Through the program, the Treasury will provide up to $9 billion in capital directly to depository institutions that are certified Community Development Financial Institutions or minority depository institutions with less than $500 million in assets – especially in low-income and underserved communities, that may be disproportionately impacted by the economic effects of COVID-19.

Bank of Hawaii has announced it is again offering small business grants of up to $5,000 to five small businesses in Saipan. The application period for I Kinometi Para I Kumunidåt I Islå-ta Small Business Revitalization and Development Grant starts July 22 through July 29, according to a July 22 release.

Applications are available here or by contacting the Pacific Islands Small Business Development Center at marianas.ecenterdirect.com, Bank of Hawaii’s Gualo Rai Branch, the Gualo Rai Branch Manager Rose Sumor at [email protected] or (670) 237-2983, or Assistant Branch Manager Joanne Aldan at [email protected] or (670) 237-2982. Applications should be submitted to Branch Manager Rose Sumor via email at [email protected] or by regular mail to Bank of Hawaii, Branch Manager, Saipan, Box 500566, Saipan MP 96950.

The Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration are offering a one-hour event on Aug. 5 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Guam Women’s Business Center in Ada’s Plaza in Hagatna on how to apply for designation as a Woman Owned Small Business. The event is free for GWCC members and $10 for non-members. Register at [email protected]

 

Leon Guerrero briefs on D.C. trip

Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero listed her July meetings with federal officials and the results, during a news conference on July 20.

Among other officials, the governor met with Kurt Campbell, deputy assistant to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs on the National Security Council, “to discuss veterans benefits and regional veteran services” in Guam. “He is very concerned about the treatment of our veterans,” she said. “He’s the one that brought it up to me.” Leon Guerrero said the administration will continue to follow up on its request for Guam veterans to be able to directly discuss their medical needs, rather than continuing to be overseen by the V.A. in Hawaii, which consistently has problems for them and for veterans in the region to also have needs met in and through Guam.  The next step was to detail Guam’s request, she said. “We will be providing him a positional paper.”

Leon Guerrero also met with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials, including Kelli Ann Burriesci, deputy under secretary for the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans, and Capt. Paul Grett of the U.S. Coast Guard, to discuss the issue of illegal entry of Chinese nationals to Guam by boat from Saipan.

The governor said, “They were very much aware of it.” Entry through Guam’s ports is the responsibility of U.S. Customs and Border Protection – which oversees that in the Northern Mariana Islands from ports of exit.

Leon Guerrero said of the Chinese nationals, “If they come into our shores [federal authorities] do not have the authority” to apprehend them. However, the U.S. Coast Guard can monitor boats heading for Guam at sea. The governor said of her meeting with Burriesci, “She did say she will give us support. … They have asked the Coast Guard to increase their frequency (of patrols) and they have.”

The 36th Guam Legislature was in emergency session on July 20 on Bill 325-36 – which would give ratepayers some relief on Guam Power Authority bills, but reached no conclusion and is due to reconvene on July 25.

Senators discussed the funding source. Leon Guerrero told the Journal during the news conference she was in favor of commercial ratepayers also receiving the credits, which are currently $100 on each monthly billing from July to November.

The bill allocates Government of Guam funding for the credits, as well as to the Guam Memorial Hospital Pharmaceutical Fund.

Leon Guerrero was in Washington from July 12 to July 15 and attended two wreath-laying ceremonies during her visit (listed in detail earlier on www.mbjguam.com – sign up for free News Flashes on the Journal site.)

 

Training and development updates:

Guam Community College has been awarded $1.22 million by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to renovate GCC’s Workforce Development Center in Barrigada.

The renovation will modernize the property to house GCC’s Work Ready Boot Camps, focusing on maritime ship repair and other construction-related trade skill, according to a July 18 release.

GCC has held 23 work-ready boot camps, 12 within the past year, the release said. The maritime ship repair boot camps successfully graduated 98 completers, a 91% completion rate, GCC said.

The GCC center is the former Guam Contractors Association training center in Barrigada. GCC purchased the facility in 2021. GCA moved to the GCA Trades Academy Tiyan Training Facility in June 2021. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration granted the GCA Trades Academy $3.8 million of a $4.74 million budget to purchase and renovate two buildings in Tiyan. The remaining balance was funded by an U.S. Department of Agriculture guaranteed loan from the Bank of Guam, according to Journal files.

On June 11, 18, and 25 29 after-school childcare providers from eight different childcare centers throughout Saipan attended a three-hour training cohort series on the School Age Care Environmental Rating Scale Updated – a rating scale designed to assess quality interactions and environment for children of school aged 5 to 12, during their out-of-school time, as well as assess the interactions children have with the many materials and activities in their environment, and more. The training sessions were held at the Kagman Community Center and conducted by Evergreen Learning Coach Erlaine DLG. Evangelista, according to a July 21 release from the Office of the Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands.  

 

NDAA amendment of concern removed, license requirement stands

Among the amendments to House Resolution 7900 – the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act was one that directly related to contractors, sub-contractors and their workforces.

House Amendment 249 was “An amendment numbered 4 printed in Part A of House Report 117-405 to add provisions of the Put Our Neighbors to Work Act to require DoD, to the extent practicable, to give preference for military construction contracts to firms that certify that at least 51 percent of employees hired to perform the work shall reside in the same state or within a 60-mile radius, and to require contractors and subcontractors for military construction projects to be licensed in the state where the work is to be performed.” The amendment was sponsored by Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat representing New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District.

James A. Martinez, president of the Guam Contractors Association told the Journal on July 20 the bulk of the amendment has been removed.

What remains is a requirement for contractors and sub-contractors to obtain a business license.

Gov. Lourdes A.  Leon Guerrero said in a July 20 release that she met with Brian Garrett, staff director for the House Armed Services Committee, during her recent visit to Washington D.C from July 12 to July 15, to discuss Guam’s concerns with the proposed language submitted to the House Committee on Rules for the 2023 NDAA, “which would raise already record-high construction costs and harm small businesses engaged primarily in the construction of local infrastructure, affordable housing, and private home construction.”

“Working with USDOL and the House Armed Services Committee, the amendment was withdrawn at the last minute, and the Senate version again keeps the current language and extends the H2B program to 2029,” the release said.

The Senate version of the H-2B provision will go through committees and conference between the House and Senate Armed Services this summer. 

Michael F.Q. San Nicolas, Guam’s delegate to Congress earlier advised that he anticipated more than $1.5 billion for Guam in the NDAA, in a July 7 release. He also said the House version of the act contains “more funding for missile defense and the highest level of funding for military projects on record.”

The 62nd annual NDAA “supports a total of $857.46 billion in fiscal year 2023 funding for national defense. Within this topline, the legislation authorizes $817.15 billion for the Department of Defense …” according to the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Senate, in its executive summary. Find the executive summary here:

https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/FY2023%20NDAA%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

The NDAA extends the Pacific Deterrence Initiative through fiscal 2023 and directs the establishment of a cross-functional team to integrate DOD efforts to address national security challenges posed by China, according to the committee.

As the Journal earlier reported, the NDAA provides for funding to support a 4.6% pay raise for both military servicemembers and the DOD civilian workforce.

 

Events held:

July 20: KEPCO Guam (Korea’s state-run Korea Electric Power company), which does business as Guam Ukudu Power LLC and the Guam Power Authority, broke ground at the site of the Ukudu Power Plant in Dededo. The power plant is due to be completed in 2024, according to a July 20 release.

The same day KEPCO and GPA held a ribbon cutting at the Mangilao Solar Farm, which has been already providing 60 MW to Guam’s power grid since June 2022, according to GPA.

The solar farm was the subject of litigation, after the contractor’s runoff from the project affected the Marbo Cave historic site and the surrounding area of the Sasayan Valley, according to Journal files. A $950,000 settlement was reached in April this year between the Government of Guam vs Samsung E and C America Inc., and KEPCO Mangilao Solar LLC.

GPA has a goal of goal of becoming 100% reliable on renewables by 2045. “The new plant, coupled with 25% renewable energy sources which GPA is implementing, will reduce our annual fuel consumption by about 49 million gallons per year in 2025 reducing fuel costs by about $100 million a year,” GPA said in the release.

According to Journal files, 55% to 60% of GPA’s expenses has been related to fuel purchases.

John M. Benavente, general manager of GPA, had previously expressed the difficulty of the power authority reaching its 2045 goal. “Don’t ask me how we’re going to get to 100% by 2045,” he told a Guam Chamber of Commerce membership lunch on July 28, 2021.

July 14: The recently renamed Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly built Fast Response Cutter facility, known as the Skinner Building in honor of Guam’s first governor, Carlton Skinner. The 11,000 square foot building was constructed by Gilbane Building Co. The facility is located by Victor Pier on Naval Base Guam.

See “New name; same game: Coast Guard gets influx of CIP funding,” in the Oct. 4, 2021 issue of the Journal. Also underway is a reconfiguration to the current command center, to allow for more use by more personnel.

 

Santa alert:

Macy’s has confirmed that all its stores in the U.S. will carry Toys R Us products in time for the Christmas season. See “Guam store to feature famous national brand in-store within months,” in the Nov. 1, 2021, issue of the Journal. According to a July 18 press release from Macy’s, the rollout will take place through October, with special events in stores.

Macy’s Guam typically makes generous room for toys on the second floor of its 45,000 square-foot menswear department for the holiday season, according to Journal files.

In other markets, the chain has announced the introduction of Market by Macy’s, a smaller store “off-mall” that offers customers a “curated assortment of the latest fashion trends, as well as … Market by Macy’s and Macy’s Backstage off-price location,” according to a July 21 release. mbj