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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 14) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Honolulu District is permanently closing as many as 35 groundwater monitoring wells that its contractors installed on Saipan between July 1997 and Aug. 1999 during the environmental investigation of formerly used defense sites (FUDS) on Saipan, Variety learned.

All these are contained in a 57-page final "well closure plan" prepared by the Army Corps’ contractor, the Hawaii-based Wil-Chee Planning Inc.

The wells were used to characterize organic and inorganic chemical contamination at the sites caused by former U.S. military occupation and use.

These FUDS with monitoring wells include the Kobler Naval Supply Center, the Chalan Kanoa or William S. Reyes Elementary School, American Memorial Park, the Tanapag Fuel Farm and the Edoni site.

But the Tanapag Action Group, an environmental advocate, expressed disappointment over Army Corps’ planned closure of the water wells "without first addressing the clean up of military chemicals found to contaminate soil and groundwater."

Sylvester Iguel, TAG spokesperson, yesterday said the group finds it "disturbing" for Army Corps to just shut down the monitoring wells without cleaning up all contaminated sites.

"Eventually, all toxic chemicals from the Tanapag fuel farm, for example, will contaminate or have already contaminated the groundwater. How will we know the extent of the contamination if these wells are just shut down?" Iguel said.

He said the Army Corps did not even give residents a chance to comment on the "draft" well closure plan.

Iguel added, "How could the Division of Environmental Quality allow this?"

DEQ has yet to comment on the report.

The Army Corps, in its report, said the "permanent closure of the wells should preclude any current or subsequent fluid media from entering or migrating within the subsurface environment along their axes or from their endpoints."

Wil-Chee Planning and Geotesting Inc. will perform the well closures, in general accordance with Army Corps guidance and DEQ’s well drilling and well operations regulations.

On-site activities associated with the well closure plan, however, will not commence until the proper authorizations, permits and clearances are obtained as applicable.

The Kobler Naval Supply Center was established on July 1, 1944 following the invasion of Saipan by U.S. military forces during World War II.

There were at least 18 aboveground fuel storage tanks at the center, and an associated fuel transfer station and an offshore pipeline at that time.

A 1999 remedial investigation resulted in the installation of six additional groundwater monitoring wells at the center.

The Chalan Kanoa or WSR Elementary School used to be a Japanese school. Later on, the U.S. military called it Findley School.

Anecdotal information, said the Army Corps report, indicates that Findley School may have been used to store, and eventually to dispose of, pest eradication and pharmaceutical formulations that were administered at Camp Susupe.

In Feb. 1995, several glass vials containing unknown aqueous and anhydrous formulations were found at the west end of the campus.

Chemical analysis of the vial contents revealed them to contain arsenic and chloroform.

Three of the six groundwater monitoring wells installed during the 1999 site remediation are left untouched and continue to exist.

An Army Corps contractor installed five groundwater monitoring wells at the American Memorial Park in 1999 to determine the presence and extent of chemical contamination at the site.

DEQ detected petroleum hydrocarbon odors in a geotechnical test trench at the site and in hand auger soil cuttings.

The construction of the Tanapag fuel farm commenced in Oct. 1944 to store fuel oil and aviation gasoline in service to the Naval Air Station in the area.

An Army Corps contractor performed a site investigation of the site in 1998 to determine the presence or absence of contamination that could be associated with the fuel farm operation. Eight monitoring wells were installed for groundwater sampling and analysis.

An earlier report by the Army Corps confirmed the contamination by various chemicals of Tanapag’s soil and groundwater.

The fifth FUDS included in the well closure plan is the Edoni site. Groundwater monitoring wells were installed for development and sampling in Dec. 1998 and Feb. 2004.

December 14, 2004

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