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Concerns growing over landfill transition

by Mindy Aguon

Guam - There are growing concerns about the lack of urgency and cooperation to begin the transition of the authority of the Layon Landfill from the federal receiver to the Guam Solid Waste Authority Board.  The District Court is hoping to get to the bottom of those concerns.

District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood will hold a hearing early Wednesday morning to hear concerns from board members of the Guam Solid Waste Authority. Public Law 31-20 created the GSWA board as an autonomous entity to oversee all aspects of the operations and to organize, plan for, secure and manage resources and promote the implementation of the Solid Waste Management Plan. It is this entity that will take over control once the court ends the federal receivership. 

In a May 16 order, Tydingco-Gatewood declared that the "finish line is in sight".  But the federal receiver doesn't have plans to transfer authority anytime soon in fact they've informed the court that the landfill won't be turned over to the GSWA board until January 2016. Despite several orders from the court for the Attorney General's Office, the receiver and the GSWA board to begin working together, that apparently hasn't happened and board members are wondering why and why they have no authority.

In a declaration filed with the District Court today, GSWA board chair Joseph W. Duenas expresses serious concerns that since having five board members confirmed, the receiver has done little in terms of helping the board begin its legally mandated duties.

Duenas said the GSWA requested to hire an attorney as they did not want to be represented by the AG's Office. But the receiver said it will not fund a full-time position for an in-house lawyer and the board is not permitted to hire any employees at this time. The receiver instead would support a request for proposal for a law firm or attorney but no RFP has been issued.  Duenas takes further issue with the fact that the board has not been given any reports on the status, progress or details of past, present or future contracts and procurement involving the Solid Waste Authority. 

But Duenas isn't the only board member concerned.  Board member Andrew Gayle had some concerns that attorneys for original landowners of the Layon property had hoped to glean from, but Gayle was prohibited by the AG's Office from providing a declaration to the court.

Attorney Rawlen Mantanona expresses concerns with the delays in the transition of control to the GSWA board.  He said there is absolutely no justification to delay the turn over for another three years. In fact, he warns that doing so could result in Layon being bankrupt by the time it is transitioned back to the GSWA board. "It will be saddled with tens of millions of dollars in debt and taking in revenue that is insufficient to support its operations. at this point the receiver will be gone and the GSWA board...will have a disaster on its hands," he wrote.

The financial concerns have been of huge concern to the original landowners who have not only filed a motion to intervene in the case but are asking the court to approve using the consent decree bonds to pay the outstanding $28 million judgment owed to them.  The problem is the receiver argues that the bonds can't pay for the judgment because they must be used to pay for the closure of the Ordot Dump.  But how much that's going to cost isn't really clear at this point as the updated estimates have been filed under seal, or private from the public. The receiver had previously estimated that it would cost $40 million to close the dump but the receiver claimed that estimate didn't include the post-closure costs.

While the updated figures have not been made public, receiver representative David Manning has said that any savings from the construction of the Layon Landfill would be required to complete the closure of Ordot. He added, "We are not encouraged to believe that the funds currently available for the closure of the Ordot Dump will be replaced without an equally difficult struggle if they are depleted to pay the judgment of the local court."

Lieutenant Governor Ray Tenorio has informed the court that the receiver has clearly failed to adequately budget for both land acquisition and the cost to close the dump. Because the judgment and the closure must be paid, Tenorio stressed that the government and the receiver would have to work together to achieve a viable solution that would begin with paying the compensation judgment rather than foot the bill for the additional $100,000 interest every month and risk reversion of the land back to the former landowners.

The Government of Guam just today asked the court to direct the receiver not to issue any requests for proposals which were anticipated to be issued sometime next week until the court has first heard arguments on the motion to unseal.

The court is scheduled to hear from the Guam Solid Waste Authority board members on Wednesday morning at 7:30 in the district court. It is unclear when the court will hear the government's ex-parte motion on the Ordot RFP issue.  

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