Green issues, housing take center stage
January 22, 2009
<b><i>Part two of a two-part series on the garrison's successes of 2008</b></i>
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - As we look back at the year that has passed, the Army's dedication to serving personnel and families continues to shine through green initiatives, upgraded housing and beautification efforts across our installations. 2008 brought great change to U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii (USAG-HI) and the population it supports. Through continued relationships and communication between commands and the community, the garrison has consistently made progress.
As everyone was painfully aware, 2008 was a year of soaring energy and fuel costs. This fact had a profound effect on the garrison, as well, which spent more than $62 million on electricity alone in 2008, $14 million more than budgeted.
"This forced USAG-HI to take money that would have gone toward planned programs, infrastructure and quality of life improvements and redirect it to paying our energy bill," said Col. Matthew Margotta, USAG-HI commander. "Partially in response to this, increased sustainability efforts became not only a goal, but a necessity."
Margotta modified the USAG-HI mission, linking green initiatives throughout all goals and strategies, and continued to promote a sustainable culture within the garrison.
He also conducted three sustainability planning-working conferences, establishing and identifying specific and achievable goals for sustainability. Of the 74 goals identified, 14 have been achieved, including hiring a sustainability coordinator, establishing a garrison sustainability Web site, and ensuring all future construction projects are designed to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.
More initiatives are in the works, including acquiring electric cars for garrison staff; a cooperative hydrogen-electric fuel plant at Kilauea Military Recreation Camp on the Big Island to support bus service; and a tentative agreement with Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) for a wind farm in the Kahukus community and for a distributive generation biodiesel power plant on Schofield Barracks.
In addition, the garrison has a working development with Actus Lend Lease Corporation (Actus) for a possible photovoltaic farm on land purchased by Army Hawaii Family Housing (AHFH) in December 2008. The land was originally designated as a golf course to replace the Kalakaua Golf Course, which became the Kalakaua community.
Housing was a hot topic in 2008. Many community members questioned USAG-HI and AHFH on the changes taking place in military communities.
"We focused on establishing a positive, cooperative relationship with our partner Actus while ensuring that our families are provided the finest quality homes and residential communities," said Margotta, adding that Actus will build homes, as well as communities, including community centers, play areas and parks.
"Every member of Army Hawaii Family Housing and the garrison leadership fully understands that not all families in Hawaii are afforded the opportunity to live in 'quality' on-post quarters," said Margotta. "Many are old, small, lack amenities and are not commensurate with what they deserve."
The Army also recognized this issue, so in 2005, the Army and USAG-HI entered into a 50-year agreement with Actus to build 5,388 new homes, renovate 2,506 old and historic homes, and manage the Army's housing property.
"As you can imagine, this will not be accomplished overnight," said Margotta.
The 10-year, $2.3 billion development plan is the largest privatization project in the Department of Defense.
"When completed, we will be able to provide approximately 70 percent of our Army families in Hawaii high quality on-post housing," added Margotta.
However, due to rising construction, labor and fuel costs, as well as market rate adjustments, the 10-year plan may have to be extended to 13 years.
"This may have to be implemented in order to ensure that we do not reduce the overall number of new homes, sacrifice their quality or reduce the great additional community amenities," Margotta stated.
To put the plan in perspective, prior to privatization, from 1997 to 2005, the Army built only 516 new homes in Hawaii, the first in many years. In the three short years since 2005, Actus built more than 1,600 new homes across USAG-HI installations, with approximately 30 new homes coming on-line each month, and nine additional communities currently in development.
Additionally, AHFH has added three new community centers, a pool and numerous playgrounds and walking paths within the community.
Gate beautification, sign painting, restriping parking and traffic lanes, along with numerous building renovations, including the Fort Shafter vehicle registration office and the outdoor recreation center, kept installations looking sharp. Constant repair and beautification of the land continues into the new year.
According to Margotta, in 2008 the community spoke and the command listened. Through town hall meetings, public forums and numerous media outlets, including the Hawaii Army Weekly and garrison and directorate newsletters, the garrison strove to enhance communication between the command and the community.
"The garrison is in the customer service business," said Margotta. "We are no different than Chili's, Wal-Mart or any other business. Unless we listen to our customers and give them what they want, we are failing.
"We take this to heart and try our very best to provide the community with the finest services and support that our resources allow," continued Margotta. "We are looking forward to 2009 as we roll out several new mechanisms for the community to provide us feedback.
"With these, we hope it will provide us the means to receive better, more useful feedback and suggestions from our community members, allowing us to enhance the quality of life provided to our deserving Soldiers and their families."
<i>Editor's Note: Click <a href="http://www.army.mil/-news/2009/01/16/15887-commander-highlights-successes-of-2008/">here</a> to view part one of this article.</i>