JUDGE ORDERS GUAM OFFICIALS TO CONVENE AT DUMP

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By Carlos B. Pangelinan

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 24) – A federal judge yesterday ordered monthly status hearings to be held at the Ordot dump on Guam and has asked the attorneys in the federal case regarding closure of the dump to discuss the possibility of a federal takeover of the island's municipal solid waste operations.

Yesterday, foul odors and flies surrounded members of Guam's political leadership as they stood atop Ordot dump, which has grown in size to rival the neighboring hills of the Manenggon area.

Gov. Felix Camacho, acting Speaker Eddie Calvo, officials from the Department of Public Works and lawyers involved in a case regarding the dump's closure were ordered by District Court of Guam Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood to visit the dump yesterday afternoon.

Government of Guam's lawyers at the hearing said it has been 1,350 days since the government began incurring daily fines for its inability to close the dump. Attorneys say the total cost of the stalled dump closure is now anywhere from US$920,000 to US$1.4 million.

Earlier yesterday morning, Tydingco-Gatewood at a status hearing at the federal courthouse in Anigua said she felt it was her obligation to see the situation at the dump.

She also ordered additional monthly field trips for officials to participate and attorneys to draft arguments for and against a federal receivership, which may lead to a federal takeover on the matter.

"There was a consent decree and the dump was to be closed by (yesterday), so, obviously, it was not closed so it's important for the judge," Calvo said as he walked toward the entrance of the Ordot dump to join Camacho, Department of Public Works officials and the federal judge's entourage of staffers and U.S. marshals.

"It's important for us all to see the situation as it is today," Calvo said. "I'm accepting of the order and we will see how we can move this thing forward. If the judge sees fit that we be here, we're here."

The visit comes on a 2003 consent decree deadline that the government of Guam agreed to follow and shut down the facility.

"Like we didn't know this was coming?" Recycling Association of Guam interim President Paul Tobaison asked, as they left the facility. "Where have we been for the last 30 years?"

Tydingco-Gatewood yesterday asked officials what would happen if she ordered the dump be closed immediately – an act she repeatedly said was well within her authority.

"Your honor, we will have a major crisis in our hands," Department of Public Works Director Larry Perez said in response. He said garbage would pile at all of Guam private haulers and the government's transfer stations.

"Frankly, if we closed the dump today, we would have a mess on our hands, figuratively and literally," the governor said, also arguing against a federal takeover.

He said a takeover would subject the local government to decisions that don't take into account the cost to complete the dump's closure and open a new landfill.

"It's not like we are just sitting around and not doing anything," Perez told Tydingco-Gatewood.

Perez said the slow pace of the government was the result of differing views by elected leaders on how to deal with the situation.

He said the recent creation of the Law Review Commission, consisting of representatives from both the executive and legislative branches, and proposed legislation currently being reviewed by the governor's office seeking to create a public corporation in place of Department of Public Works' solid waste division were among the steps being taken to address the situation.

Perez added the local government is moving to secure bids to address such issues as recycling, diverting the waste stream and even possibly mining the landfill.

Much of the discussion at the hearing, however, centered on why land in the Dandan area of Inarajan [located in the southeast part of the island of Guam.], hasn't already been condemned for a new landfill. The court also asked why the government hasn't purchased a scale to weigh garbage entering the dump, which the federal judge said is needed to get money for the dump closure.

The governor's attorney, Ray Hattig, said hydrological studies are needed to designate the proper "footprint" or area of the landfill. He said it could take up to December to complete the studies so that the condemnation can proceed.

The federal attorneys, however, argued that the studies don't define the landfill's size, so the condemnation could have proceeded.

Also during the hearing, Perez said Department of Public Works has been having a difficulty securing a vendor for a scale-- estimated to cost US$150,000.

Tydingco-Gatewood responded by saying the department had 10 years to complete the work.

She also questioned why the local government didn't proceed with a project to create an "interceptor" trench along the dump to divert leachate to a storage tank.

Perez said a report from the University of Guam's Water and Environmental Research Institute, or WERI, indicates the contamination from the dump wasn't as great as was originally thought and the department could not find interested bidders for the work.

Tydingco-Gatewood ordered attorneys to submit arguments to a court-ordered federal receivership and scheduled a hearing to discuss the matter on Nov. 19.

She also ordered additional monthly field-trips for the governor, the acting speaker, Department of Public Works officials and attorneys to visit Lonfit River, the proposed landfill site in Dandan, and, if possible, the military's dump on the Orote Peninsula.

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