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By Katie Worth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 3) - Launching what is bound to be one of the most heated local debates of the year, government officials yesterday announced the three sites they will consider for the island's next landfill.

The three top sites, in order of the government of Guam's preliminary preference, are:

· Dandan, a 3,000-acre site behind what was once the NASA tracking station in Inarajan;

· Sabanan Batea, a 200-acre site south of LeoPalace in Yona municipality; and

· Lonfit, a 100-acre property just north of the Lonfit River in Asan.

Residents in those areas had mixed reactions yesterday, with many saying that no one wants the island's next landfill in his or her back yard because of the potential environmental and health risks.

GovGuam has until Dec. 6 to complete thorough environmental impact studies on each of the three sites, said Guam Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Fred Castro at a joint press conference with the Department of Public Works yesterday. The final decision on a landfill site will have to be made by March of 2005.

The announcement is a landmark in the process of opening a new landfill and closing the overflowing Ordot dump, a project ordered in federal court by the Ordot Dump Consent Decree. The decree sets up a series of deadlines to complete parts of the project, and yesterday's announcement came more than a week before the March 11 deadline to announce three potential landfill sites.

A total of 12 locations were initially considered, Castro said, and six of those were eliminated because of environmental concerns. The remaining six were given point rankings based on a variety of considerations.

The highest-ranked site, Dandan, is located just southwest of the old NASA tracking station. The station now is the U.S. Department of State Area Telecommunications Office-Guam.

A visit to the site yesterday revealed a grassland area with gentle rolling hills and some frog-inhabited puddles.

The reason Dandan is the most desirable location so far, Castro said, is because it is located on a huge tract of land: 3,000-plus acres that is very remote from residential areas. All three options sit on at least 100 acres of land, but the government would like to be able to buy more land so it can expand the landfill site in the future, if necessary, he said.

The distance from the northern and central areas of the island could be solved by new, high-tech transfer stations, which he described as huge warehouses where dump trucks could bring garbage to be sorted by machines.

From there, he said, the trash could be transported to Inarajan during off-peak traffic hours via large container trucks, which he said could limit the impact of garbage truck traffic through southern villages.

Castro said the new landfill will be a far cry from the Ordot dump. He said that ideally, the new landfill, which will cost about $15 million or more to design and build, will look "like a golf course," and will feature tree-lined roads and a retaining wall.

He said the new landfill will not face the same problems with pests, stench and fire hazards that the current dump is famous for.

Most importantly, he said, it will not have residents for neighbors.

Despite these assurances, the announcement of the three potential sites already sparked controversy yesterday.

Residents voiced concerns that the Lonfit site is too close to the current Ordot dump; that the Sabanan Batea site will likely require transit through Ordot; and that Inarajan's Dandan site is too far away from the populated villages of Yigo and Dededo.

The Lonfit option was unsavory to Mark McCarthy, spokesman for the Committee for the Closure of Ordot Dump, an organization of Ordot and other island residents that has advocated for the closure of the dump.

The Lonfit area being considered, though not officially in the Ordot/Chalan Pago municipality, is just up the road from the current Ordot dump, said McCarthy, whose house is adjacent to the dump.

"Technically, my house is in Asan. The site of the current Ordot dump is almost in Asan," he said. "We would be uncomfortable with the (Lonfit option) because that traffic would be coming up our road."

When asked how he felt about the Dandan area, he replied:

"All the way down in Inarajan? I think it's time we really look at this incinerator as a viable way of handling our waste instead. In the long term, it would be better for our children," he said.

Inarajan Mayor Franklin Taitague said he would reserve judgment on the Dandan option until "the experts" provided more input. However, he said, he will work to make sure the residents in his villages are well educated about the project's potential pros and cons, and have opportunities to voice their concerns.

Asan-Maina Mayor Benny San Nicolas said that the Lonfit site seems very close to the current Ordot dumpsite and could affect people who live in nearby developments. He also said that the Lonfit River already has been adversely affected by the island's waste.

"But nobody feels comfortable having it in their back yard, and I know for a fact that we do need a landfill," he said.

The pending environmental assessments of the three sites will cost around $200,000 and be paid for by Public Works out of $3.2 million the administration has set aside to pay for the initial costs of the closure of Ordot dump and the opening of a new landfill, Castro said

The entire project is likely to total about $50 million, Castro said. Of that amount, about $30 million will be used to close Ordot, $15 million to open a new landfill and about $5 million for "flexibility."

A major hurdle for the project will be land acquisition, Castro said.

The Dandan site being considered, he said, is mostly owned by Calvo Enterprises, the Lonfit site is owned by Columbus Development and the Sabanan Batea site is mostly owned by Texas A&M.

But Castro said that even if the landowners were to resist selling their land, the government would obtain it.

"Land acquisition will be successful. We hope to get the land through negotiations and not through eminent domain, (but) one way or another we will get the land," he said.

Castro said that public opinion will be taken into account in the decision-making process, but the final decision will be made based on "science" and potential environmental impact -- not politics.

"It's important to remember that this landfill will look nothing like the Ordot dump," Castro said.

March 3, 2004

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