GWA sets for latest legal battle with feds - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

GWA sets for latest legal battle with feds

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by Janjeera Hail

Guam - District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood heard the latest from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Guam Waterworks Authority this morning. The utility agency is still not in full compliance with its amended stipulated order, but GWA and the USEPA will continue to work on reaching a settlement and then move forward to replace the stipulated order with a consent decree.

Last week the feds in a status report said GWA fails to comply with current permitting requirements, appears incapable of planning for future compliance with environmental laws and to date GWA has not responded to the U.S. Government's settlement offer. However, the chief judge acknowledged that GWA has made a lot of effort, but as Consolidated Commission on Utilities Chairman Simon Sanchez admits, the primary issue has been financing.

He told KUAM News, "One thing that we that we stressed with the court and EPA is all of the solutions cannot be implemented in a way that we price the cost of water beyond the reach of people. We all want these improvements and we want them as fast as possible. But it's going to take billions of dollars."

One of the major concerns of both the USEPA and the judge was the capacity of the Northern Wastewater Treatment Plant.  GWA has failed to upgrade the northern and Agana plants to primary treatment as recently required by the USEPA.

Although the Final Environmental Impact Statement designates $420 million to upgrade both the Northern and Agana plants to primary treatment the funding hinges on the final Record of Decision for the military buildup, due out in September.  "We still don't know if that's actually going to happen," noted Sanchez, "so we must allow that process to go forward, but that's going to go a long way in deterring what we're going to do over the next decade when we replace the stipulated order with the new consent decree."

All parties agree that something must be done immediately to accommodate the first wave of buildup-related workers.  The Navy is expected to begin a 90-day study of wastewater capacity before the end of the year to determine possible interim solutions, and GWA has pledged to deny building permits until those solutions are in place.  "The quick move is to get another 3 million gallons a day in capacity in place. Putting in these technical solutions. The Department of Defense is paying for the study and DoD is going to pay for the solution, and we'll go from there," the CCU chairman added.  

From here the parties will submit their filings in October and are scheduled to meet again before the judge on November 10.

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