Bill seeks to recover millions from feds for Ordot Dump - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Bill seeks to recover millions from feds for Ordot Dump

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 by Ken Quintanilla

It was introduced back in February and today a public hearing was finally held on legislation that would take the feds to courts. Shortly before Bill 281 was introduced earlier this year, the Guam Solid Waste Authority board of directors had passed a resolution requesting the governor pursue legal action against the feds related to the costs of the Ordot Dump closure. 


Today interim board chairman Jonathan Denight once again encouraged lawmakers to move this matter forward, announcing, "We're in support of (Bill) 281 and we feel that with the cost to close Ordot (Dump) definitely the Government of Guam should pursue anything it can to help alleviate the costs of Ordot Dump." Senator Chris Duenas's Bill 281 would authorize the Government of Guam to pursue compensation from the federal government for their contribution to the Ordot Dump. 


The governor's chief policy advisor Arthur Clark says these costs were initially projected at $200 million, however, those costs are nowhere in sight of ending and will definitely be more. "The investigation into the action against the Navy and Department of Defense as a potential crime is long overdue," he stated. 


As we reported and was reiterated today, the Navy built and used the Ordot Landfill for 13 years to dispose municipal and military waste before transferring it to the local government. The dump was added to the National Priorities List and the USEPA even issued a Superfund record of decision noting that the Navy was in fact a potentially responsible party for environmental contamination at Ordot.


Clark says environmental experts have indicated that this lawsuit is not only viable, but should be pursued. "Because this is the Navy, the Department of Defense, the US federal government, deep pockets, large damages, we got everybody interested in this," he explained. 


Deputy Attorney General Pat Mason says the Attorney General's Office agrees if there is a viable claim against the feds, it should be pursued, but this is not a novel idea, saying, "But also we're not opposed to this intent of this bill and we're not opposed to the fact that in these particular circumstance, we believe a contingency fee would be appropriate." 


Mason says the AG's Office has also done its preliminary work as well and believes GovGuam should seek a firm with real expertise in the Comprehensive Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which is commonly known as the Superfund. CERCLA was created by Congress in 1980 and provides broad federal authority to respond to releases of threats or releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. Mason offered some recommendations for the bill, saying, "In this situation we should be involved as we always are to make sure things are in the up and up in the procurement and we're not going to get involved in policy and we're not going to be telling experts what to do," he said. "We should also be the local firm to file the pro hac vice that admits an expert firm into the courts of Guam." 


Clark however raised concern about the AG's involvement. He noted that in a filing back in September last year in the condemnation case, the AGO stated that based off the viable evidence does not believe such a claim against the US under the federal CERCLA statute would be successful. "With that premise, being that starting premise, we have hesitation of letting them be in charge of the process going on here - and the reason the Governor's Office has initiated this and worked with Senator Duenas's office because it has been four years of inaction by the Attorney General's Office on this issue," he said. 


It's no secret that the Governor's Office and the ago have had very public disagreements and conflicts over environmental issues particularly with the Ordot Dump. Bill 281 not only authorizes GovGuam to retain professionals but appropriates $350,000 to pay for costs and expenses associated with bringing action against the feds. Clark says the bulk of the funds would be used to get experts to show up to court to testify during the proceedings.

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