Report, recommendation issued on GWA deadlines - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Report, recommendation issued on GWA deadlines

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - The Guam Waterworks Authority and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have 14 days to submit written objections to a report and recommendation that's been issued in the stipulated order case.  The District Court today issued its report and recommendations on the deadlines that should be imposed for GWA to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

Although he recognized the Guam Waterworks Authority's concerns that funding solutions and improvements to the island's water and wastewater system should be spread out over a number of years to make it more feasible for GWA ratepayers, District Court Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan found that "any financial analysis must be balanced against the equally serious risk to both public health and the environment."

Because GWA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weren't able to reach a compromise on deadlines to complete various projects that would bring the utility in compliance with federal standards, Manibusan was tasked with submitting a report and recommendation to Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood.

The major sticking point was the timelines associated with repairs needed for the southern wastewater systems. The EPA wanted all improvements to be made by December 2016 while GWA wanted to be given until December 31, 2019 to make improvements to the Agat-Santa Rita wastewater systems, December 31, 2020 to complete upgrades to the Baza Gardens wastewater system, and December 31, 2021 to complete improvements to the Umatac-Merizo wastewater system. 

But with millions of gallons of sewage spills and bypasses of raw sewage occurring on a regular basis, the EPA told the court that it wouldn't accept GWA's deadlines without implementing more aggressive interim measures to remediate the ongoing violations, especially since GWA never implemented any improvements identified in a comprehensive performance evaluation of the southern wastewater systems completed six years ago.

The court agreed, stating "The court can no longer delay for another decade the solutions desperately needed for the problems experience by the Southern wastewater systems... The court simply can not allow this ongoing risk to public health to continue knowing that a solution can be achieved sooner if GWA increased its rates." The court noted that raising utility rates is not popular but the residents and environment can no longer tolerate the repeated discharges of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into Guam's waters.

Judge Manibusan has recommended that improvements to the Agat-Santa Rita wastewater system be completed by December 31, 2016, Baza Gardens by December 31, 2017 and Umatac-Merizo by December 31, 2018.

Meanwhile, the judge sided with GWA on many of the deadlines for other projects related to the repair and replacement of the agency's aging water tanks, and the Northern and Agana Wastewater Treatment Plants. Consolidated Commission on Utilities chair Simon Sanchez says he's very encouraged by the magistrate's findings as the judge agreed with many of GWA's timelines. 

With regard to the timelines set out for the southern wastewater systems, Sanchez says he can appreciate why the judge decided to split the difference between the parties' timelines and understands Manibusan's reasoning as GWA has not been meeting standards for decades and continue to threaten the oceans in the south.  As for the timelines will have on ratepayers, the CCU chair says rate increases were expected under any scenario but residents can expect water bills to more than double over the next decade to pay for the $200 million-$400 million that will be borrowed to finish all of these projects to bring GWA's facilities into compliance to protect the environment and be in full compliance with federal standards.

Again, the parties have 14 days to submit any written objections to the report and recommendation to the court and the final decision rests with Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood.

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