CAN you imagine a place you can go to on Guam where you can walk along the banks of a river, browse the many vending stands that are set up along the wood and brick walkway, marvel at the fish that a father and son had caught while casting in the river, and listen to the music from up and coming local artists as they play and sing for their friends and passersby? What about a place you can go where you can buy fresh fish and shrimp raised in an aquaculture farm, then walk or take a little cruise up a river to a farmer’s stand to purchase some fresh fruits and vegetables grown in an area you can see behind the stand, and end your journey at a place where a local chef can prepare you a meal with the seafood and produce you just bought? If you can envision this, one day you’ll be able to experience it.
I, along with my Republican colleagues, recently introduced two measures (Bills 440-31 and 442-31) that direct the Guam Economic Development Authority to conduct studies on the feasibility of constructing, for purposes of economic development and visitor enhancement, riverwalks along the banks of the Hagåtña and Talofofo Rivers. The measures further direct GEDA to work with the landowners along each of the rivers, the mayors from respective and surrounding villages, the heads of appropriate government agencies, and other affected and interested stakeholders in conducting the studies. And lastly, the studies are to include recommendations for viable funding sources and necessary policy changes to construct and maintain the riverwalks.
The idea for the Hagåtña riverwalk came about while finding a way to mitigate the potential for the river overflow that has placed a good portion of our capital in a flood zone. Because of the flood zone designation, many of the efforts to revitalize and improve Hagåtña have been stymied or reconsidered because it was cost-prohibitive.
Discussions with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers after Guam’s last round of major storms, and before Hurricane Katrina devastated a major city that was built 12 feet below sea level, pegged the cost to mitigate the Hagåtña River at around $25 million. So if we’re going to have to spend that much to get our capital city out of the flood zone, why don’t we include the construction of pathways, rest areas and vending stands to spur economic activity that could pay for the project?
Now the idea for the Talofofo riverwalk must first be attributed to Google Earth. While sitting at my desk and using the application to view the path and expanse of the Hagåtña River, I used the same site to view the other rivers on our island. When I was viewing the Talofofo River, I couldn’t help but notice the aquaculture and agriculture farms that are along its banks. I then remembered there was a riverboat attraction running in that area and, after speaking with Bruce Kloppenberg, was convinced the Talofofo Riverwalk would be another viable economic development project.
While there are many uncertainties about whether or not the military realignment is going to occur, whether or not the China visa waiver program will come to fruition, or if the federal government will make good in reimbursing us for the impact of the Compacts of Free Association, we must find ways to grow our economy and to enhance the mainstay of our economic driver, the visitor industry. In the movie “Field of Dreams,” the lines most remembered were: “If you build it, they will come!”
Sen. Frank Blas Jr. is the Minority Leader of the 31st Guam Legislature. Reach him at: frank.blasjr[at]gmail.com.