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Boston Herald

Corps Will Use Dredging Technology To Check For Munitions In Puerto Rico

By Orlando Vidal

September 1, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Gale Group Inc. All rights reserved.

Corps Report

ISSN: 1069-2657; Volume 12; Issue 18

The Corps will utilize both aerial and underwater technology to determine the possible offshore location of military munitions near the island of Culebra in Puerto Rico. The agency is conducting the investigation as part of the Formerly Used Defense Sites Program (FUDS). Culebra had been used as a Navy weapons training facility.

To check for the presence of munitions and ordnance underwater, the Corps will use surveying techniques normally associated with dredging projects. The agency will employ a side-scan sonar device, magnetometers and multi-beam bathymetric equipment to pin point metal objects that could indicate the presence of munitions.

The underwater survey will cost about $231,000. Renan Lopez De Azua and Associates of San Juan is the contractor for the project with Sea Systems Corp. of Pompano Beach, Fla. as the subcontractor. The agency also has contracted to acquire high-resolution aerial photographs of the entire island and its surrounding cays to assist future cleanup efforts. The aerial surveying will be conducted by 3001 Inc. of New Orleans. Work on the surveys will be completed within the next year.

Corps Formulates Action Plan

The surveys constitute the first steps taken by the Corps to implement a "plan of action" for Culebra that ranges from initial investigation to final cleanup. The plan calls for the Corps to remove military munitions from a mortar range in Culebra's Cerro Balcon region, to investigate and clean up additional Puerto Rican areas of concern and to conduct research to identify additional locations where military munitions should be addressed

The work on Culebra is being done in association with efforts to clean up the Puerto Rican island of Vieques under the Superfund program operated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Corps revealed its plan on Aug. 18, a few days after EPA officially proposed that the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area (AFWTA) that includes both islands, be considered eligible for the Superfund program.

"We've shared a draft of the plan for Culebra with Puerto Rico and EPA and requested their comments," said Ray Fatz, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for environment, safety and occupational health.

"Given their initial reaction, we're encouraged that we're on the right track," he added.

In July, representatives of each of the parties agreed that the Army and Puerto Rico would implement the plan.

Puerto Rico has long sought assistance to clean up the islands. While both have been designated as components of AFWTA, the Corps will concentrate on Culebra since the island qualifies as a FUDS installation. Congress designated the Corps as the lead agency for such cleanups throughout the Defense Department for facilities where operations ceased before 1986. Vieques was functioning after that date and will be handled by the Navy.

A Political Presence

The Culebra project may have gotten a boost as a result of congressional action. On July 13 House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, (Calif.) and 13 other House members, including representatives of Puerto Rico, urged the White House to grant Superfund status to the islands.

Noting in a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that Puerto Rico initiated its Superfund request more than a year ago, and that EPA had agreed to the request in December 2003, the representatives said that "Puerto Rico has pursued good faith discussions with the U.S. government, but the designation remains pending. Further delay is not warranted." A month later EPA issued its Superfund proposal for the area.

Contact: Elsa Jimenez, Jacksonville (787) 729-6876; Candice Walters, Corps HQ, (202) 528-4285.

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