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Navy In Advanced Stage To Begin Vieques Cleanup

Editor’s Note: This is the final article in a four-part series on the proposal by experts, environmentalists, and island municipality residents for the cleanup and development of Vieques.

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez of WOW News

August 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW News. All rights reserved. 

The U.S. Navy has completed an initial investigation of the military facilities they had in the island municipality of Vieques to clean contaminated areas in compliance with an agreement between the armed forces and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The investigation revealed that nine areas in Camp Garcia identified as "solid waste management units" will require cleaning, and three other sites were classified as "areas of concern," which may also require attention.

There are also nearly 38 additional sites that may require attention on the island, said Bonnie Bellow, communications director at EPA-Region 2.

According to the investigation, there’s "visible evidence" that hazardous materials were released in some areas of Camp Garcia.

"Approximately 100,000 gallons of fuel were probably released on the land and into the sea over the 25-year period during which this site was utilized," reveals the report.

Possible oil spills, severely stained soil and metals detected in surface soil samples are other observations made in the study.

The investigation—as well as a work plan for groundwater, sampling and a community work plan—was conducted by worldwide known company CH2M Hill, a contractor specialized in engineering, planning, and environment, hired by the Navy in compliance with the Consent of Order (CO) signed between the Armed Forces and EPA on Jan. 20, 2000, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The document, which also gathers results from previous studies conducted by the Navy and the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB), is available at the EPA’s website and is open for public comments, which is the final phase of the process that could be completed in the following months, according to Bellow.

Bellow explained that EPA signed the agreement with the Navy as part of a series of efforts to restore and clean the former military facilities that served as a firing range, maneuvers area and for ammunition storage for more than six decades.

"These areas are sites where the Navy conducted industrial or manufacturing activities and are not within the live impact area," Bellow explained. According to the federal official, the live impact area requires a different level of attention, since the Navy hasn’t certified the area as secure.

If the plan is approved as expected, the Navy will be cleaning the 55-acre Camp Garcia landfill where the Armed Forces disposed of about 3,120 tons of construction debris, scrap metal and general waste, three different areas where gasoline, diesel and waste oil were stored and soil may be contaminated; four lagoons used to treat domestic wastewater, and two storage areas for waste batteries.

According to the report, some of the areas are near the Observation Post (OP-1), where civilian officer David Sanes died after a bomb hit the area accidentally in 1999.

Bellow explained that the RCRA process is different from the Superfund Program, since the law includes mechanisms to clean polluted sites in use or active.

Instead, the Superfund Program is destined mostly for sites that are no longer in use. Since by the time of the agreement, the Navy had active facilities in Vieques, RCRA statutes apply.

As a result, Puerto Rico—with the "silver bullet" request made in June 15 by Gov. Sila Calderon to include Vieques and Culebra in the National Priority List (NPL)—is engaged in two parallel efforts to ensure the total cleaning of Vieques.

Recently, EPA granted $20,000 to community organizations interested in the analysis and understanding of the extent of contamination in the eastern part of Vieques, which will allow the community to hire advisors on the subject. The initiative will allow the people of Vieques to participate in the decision-making process regarding the island’s cleaning efforts. The deadline for submitting proposals is Aug. 20, 2003.

Finally, Bellow noted that federal regulations require entities and federal agencies—including the Armed Forces—whose activities may have caused damage to environment, to comply with their responsibility of conducting research, cleaning, restoration and rehabilitation of sites and financing the cleanup.

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