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January 8, 2008

Pacific Daily News

Air Force takes point in recycling on Guam

I want to rebut several assertions in Sen. Tina Muña Barnes' letter (Voice of the People, Dec. 29) regarding the military's lack of participation in bottle deposit programs.

As the former overseer of Andersen Air Force Base's environmental programs, I can assure the people of Guam that our Air Force is the island's unquestionable leader in all things recycling. They probably wouldn't say this, but as a military retiree I can and will.

First, the letter's most questionable assertions:

  • "When bottle bills have been proposed over the past 25 years in Guam, the military has always refused to participate, and until recently local beverage distributors have also resisted."

    By conflating local businesses with "the military," Sen. Muña Barnes negates the logic of her central argument, i.e., that the military is the immovable object in the campaign for a bottle deposit law. She also does not state on what basis the military refused to participate.

  • "In the states, the military fully cooperates with recycling programs." Yes, and on Guam the military is the only entity that even has recycling programs on a large scale. When we lived on Andersen, we had weekly curbside pickup of cardboard, glass, aluminum cans, newspapers, magazines and plastics. At the time, Andersen also operated one of only three glass crushers on island and was the only place on Guam where one could recycle plastic containers. We also chipped yard waste and even bought a concrete crusher to recycle that vital building material.

    Guam's program? Hope that residents will drive into the bowels of Harmon Industrial Park on their own time and expense drop off whatever the handful of companies that accept recyclable items will take. Way to go, Guam.

  • "Guam's Chamber of Commerce estimates that possibly half of the beverage containers discarded in Guam are bought on base."

    What I want to know is who among my Chamber friends went to Ordot for the container count? Did they count containers tossed by the roadside or in the boonies? How many of these "containers" were made out of highly recyclable aluminum versus the glass that is in question here?

    Finally, how did the Chamber identify these containers as being bought on base? Again, this is a superficially authoritative statement.

  • "The military's resistance has been an impediment in properly dealing with our solid waste."

    Notwithstanding all I've already said, who in the military has impeded GovGuam, the Legislature and the Judiciary from coming to an agreement regarding solid waste? Nobody.

    Ordot, Dandan, Guatali, the court orders, the as-yet-unpaid fines all have absolutely nothing to do with the military or this specific issue. On the other hand, I can state that the Air Force for one has dealt with some significant solid waste issues quietly and efficiently.

  • (From a letter to Mikel Schwab, assistant U.S. attorney) "It seems rather disingenuous of the federal government to criticize GovGuam for its solid waste problems, when the military's lack of cooperation prevents an important recycling effort from going forward."

    To me, it seems rather disingenuous to criticize the military over a relatively marginal aspect of Guam's solid waste crisis. This is acutely true since the military is light years ahead of GovGuam on recycling and the island is about to drown in its own detritus due to years of leadership failures by multiple players in local government.

  • "My hope is that one benefit from the military buildup will be an island wide recycling program."

    Finally, a statement with which I agree. In fact, I encourage Andersen and Navy Base Guam officials to once again invite key members of Guam's executive and legislative branches to the bases to show them how we do it. I certainly hope they would include Sen. Muña Barnes on the guest list.

    In closing I cannot fathom the motive for this letter, especially now. A bottle bill might benefit Guam and I would encourage local military leaders to consider it seriously.

    However, raising this issue now is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We are still going to hit that iceberg unless our legislators work concertedly and quickly with the other branches of government to keep our island from becoming one big dump -- that is, if it's not already too late.

Stephen L. Wolborsky is an Air Force retiree and a Talofofo resident.


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