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Major Agreement for Vieques Cleanup Finalized

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2008


Contacts:

Elizabeth Totman (212) 637-3662, totman.elizabeth@epa.gov
Brenda Reyes (787) 977-5869, reyes.brenda@epa.gov
Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore
(703) 697-5342, cindy.moore@navy.mil
Tom R. MacKenzie (404) 679-7291, tom_mackenzie@fws.gov


(San Juan, P.R. – Mar. 25, 2008) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today the finalization of a federal facility inter-agency agreement (FFA) with several agencies and jurisdictions for the cleanup of portions of the Island of Vieques and its surrounding waters. The agreement is between EPA, the U.S. Department of Navy, U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and it lays out the roles that the various agencies will play as the cleanup continues. EPA’s Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg was joined by Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Donald R. Schregardus, as well as Carlos W. López Freytes, President of the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and Susan Silander, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Project Leader for the Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, at EPA’s offices in San Juan, Puerto Rico to mark the finalization of the agreement.

“Work has been proceeding at the site, but reaching an agreement with all the parties involved is a significant milestone,” said Regional Administrator Steinberg. “The federal government agencies and the Commonwealth are on the same page on how we will move forward, and that will undoubtedly help in cleaning up this site to the benefit of all involved.”

The agreement requires that the environmental impacts associated with past and present activities on Vieques and its surrounding waters be thoroughly investigated and that appropriate actions are taken in order to protect the community and the environment. The FFA will facilitate cooperation, exchange of information, and participation of all the parties involved.

“I am encouraged by the progress that has been made on Vieques, and pleased that the key government agencies have come together to sign an agreement that will help us expedite our restoration efforts,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Schregardus. “The agreement identifies roles, responsibilities, processes, and schedules we will follow to protect the people of Vieques and support approved land uses.”

Mr. López Freytes said, “The Agreement represents an achievement for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico because it guarantees the involvement of the Environmental Quality Board, as co-regulators, on the decision-making process of the cleanup. Our agency is truly committed to having an active participation in order to ensure that the concerns of the community of Vieques are addressed, the local regulations are followed and the cleanup is fair and comprehensive.”

Unexploded ordnance and remnants of exploded ordnance, which contain hazardous substances, have been identified in the former range areas of the eastern portion of the Vieques site, as well as in the surrounding waters. Extensive work has been performed to assess the conditions at the Vieques portion of the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area site as a whole, and the FFA lays out the process for further investigation and cleanup.

"We are pleased to be part of the team that worked effectively together to develop the cleanup process in Vieques," said Ms. Silander. "Clearing the land of contaminants that may present a threat to wildlife, staff, visitors and residents of Vieques is vital. We look forward to continuing to work with all the other agencies and the community in this significant effort."

The U.S. Navy began using Vieques, in conjunction with Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on mainland Puerto Rico, in the early years of World War II, as a base for Allied fleets. Land was acquired in the eastern and western portions of Vieques between 1941 and 1943, with further acquisitions occurring during the late 1940s.

On the western portion of Vieques, the Navy operated an ammunition facility until 1948, when the facility ceased operations. It was reactivated in 1962 until its final closure in 2001. Later in that year, the Navy transferred 3,100 acres to the Department of Interior, 4,000 acres to the Municipality of Vieques, and 800 acres to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust.

The Navy also managed approximately 14,600 acres on the eastern portion of Vieques, which were used for amphibious training exercises and air-to-ground maneuvers. This portion of the island included a waste explosive detonation range, which was operated for many years in support of its training activities. Military training activities and associated support on the eastern portion of Vieques ceased in 2003, when the Navy transferred that portion to the Department of the Interior.

In February 2005, the Vieques portion of the proposed Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area site was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is a list of the most hazardous waste sites in the country. The FFA process aims to guide the EPA in determining which areas of the site warrant further investigation. The proposed agreement was announced in September 2007 and for 45 days following the announcement, the agencies involved accepted comments during a public comment period. Those comments have been evaluated and the agencies have determined that the FFA is final.

For more information on the Vieques site, go to http://www.epa.gov/region02/vieques, where you can find the finalized FFA, as well as the responses to public comments received on the FFA.

 


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