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Debate ranges over source of pollution

By Brett Kelman

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 18, 2009) РThe Guam Environmental Protection Agency is keeping West Hag̴ṯa Bay closed because of a sewage leak, but the Guam Waterworks Authority says that leak couldn't have existed since January.

GEPA e-mails weekly advisories to local print and television media so residents can be informed where it's safe to swim and fish.

The agency normally advises residents to avoid about five to 15 beaches each week. But they only close one.

Every release issued this year -- except one -- has stated: "West Hagåtña Bay is also closed due to a sewage leak in the effluent pipe from the Hagåtña Sewage Treatment plant. ... This will remain closed until further notice."

After repeated inquires by the Pacific Daily News, the wording of the advisory released on Friday was different, but the beach is still closed.

GWA replaced the only pipe that carries treated waste out of the plant a few months ago.

The new pipe stretches 2,200 feet offshore and 270 feet underwater. The old pipe was hundreds of feet shorter and twice as shallow.

Pressure testing proves the new pipe doesn't leak, said GWA Wastewater Engineer Julie Shane said. It was drilled horizontally into the rock under the reef.

"The new outfalls have been working since January and (GEPA) is still reporting the exact same thing," she said. "There is no justification for that statement that (the waste) is from us."

Acting GEPA Administrator Ray Haddock said his agency is still concerned about the old GWA pipe, even though it is no longer being used.

"I'm not sure if there is effluent leaking out it or what exactly is the problem, but they still have concerns about it," Haddock said Friday. "Until the concerns are addressed, they are going to keep the beaches closed."

On Friday, Shane demonstrated that nothing was flowing into the old pipe and questioned how an empty pipe could leak.

According to the revised advisory released Friday afternoon, GEPA is concerned that the old pipe is used as a backup or overflow option for the new pipe.

Shane said GWA could use the pipe as a backup, but they've never had to.

She said GEPA probably just hadn't bothered to change the advisories after GWA installed the new pipes in January.

"If they want to close the beaches because they have high (bacteria) levels, then they should close the beaches," she said. "But I don't understand what the basis is for attributing it to the wastewater treatment plant."

Brandon Diaz, of Asan, and Peter Guerrero, of Yona, were fishing less than 100 yards from the wastewater treatment plant on Friday, regardless of the closure. Both men return to that spot twice a year to catch schools of mañahac, which Guerrero said taste good when fried.

"I always eat the fish, but I never get sick or anything," Guerrero said.


Gary Denton, director of the University of Guam Water and Energy Research Institute of the Western Pacific, said Friday that GWA's old pipe wouldn't contaminate the ocean anymore if it hasn't been used since January.

Denton believed GEPA was keeping the West Hagåtña Bay closed to "err on the side caution." But he said the best thing they could do is take water samples and find out for certain if the pipe was still a problem.

EPA might need a boat, a scuba diver and about $100 worth of testing equipment, but the whole dispute could be settled in a day, Denton said.

If GWA helped, it might only take half a day.

"The best way to end this is for EPA and GWA to bury the hatchet, work together and solve this ... instead of pointing fingers," he said.

GEPA Biologist Veronica Cummings Gutierrez, who e-mails out the beach advisories, said Thursday and Friday that the advisories were still accurate, but declined to explain.

Gutierrez said the PDN should just "accept it." She forwarded all other questions to EPA Biologist Jesse Cruz, who was off island. She provided an e-mail address for Cruz, but no phone number.

An urgent e-mail sent to Cruz on Friday morning had not been returned as of 6 p.m. that evening. Haddock said Cruz might be available to provide more information today.

EPA Administrator Lorilee Crisostomo, who was meeting with the U.S. EPA in San Francisco, couldn't be reached despite repeated calls to their office.


Shane said the old pipe that ran out of the wastewater plant carried "treated effluent," not sewage, as most of the advisories state.

The pipes had a crack, but she doesn't think enough waste could have escaped to close down half the bay.

More likely, the Agana River has carried pollutants into the bay and EPA has attributed the waste to GWA for years, Shane said. Failing septic tanks or storm water runoff could easily contaminate the beach too, she said.

Denton said he would stake his reputation on the fact that the river carries pollutants from the Agana Swamp.

Shane said the source of the waste was "up for debate" before January, but the new pipes make the issue a moot point. If EPA is still convinced that GWA is responsible for whatever is in the water, Shane wanted proof.

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