2000 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Thu, 4 May 2000 14:52:26 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Vieques transfer legislation
Today's (May 4, 2000) clearing of protesters from the Navy training
range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques virtually guarantees -
politically - that the Navy will have to give up the property. That
outcome was already likely. Now it's just a matter of when.

Federal agents removed the protesters much more easily and cheaply than
it will be to remove the bombs, shells, and other contamination from
Navy facilities on Vieques. And while activists and the press focus on
the confrontation over the Navy range, Congress is considering
legislation that will set the rules for the transfer and cleanup of the
Naval Ammunition Depot on the western third of Vieques. That transfer is
scheduled for this year.

Perhaps more important, the legislation will set a precedent for the
future of the eastern half of the island, the Navy range, when the
President agrees to transfer that property.

Unfortunately, the legislation - at least the version that I've read -
would waive existing environmental law, and it is missing an essential
component: a commitment to fund cleanup. However, it's unlikely that the
legislation, likely to be appended to an authorization or appropriations
bill, will pass in its current form

The language would convey, by December 31, 2000, the Naval Ammunition
Depot - minus radar and telecommunications sites - to the Government of
Puerto Rico for the benefit of the municipality of Vieques. It would
waive the provisions of the Superfund law (CERCLA) requiring a covenant
that cleanup remedies are in place before transfer. That is, it would
order an Early Transfer, relieving the Navy of some of time pressure to
complete cleanup. The language also provides and carefully circumscribes
indemnification of the transferees. 

Early Transfer, without full characterization and review by the public
and regulatory agencies, would essentially make the property available
before it is safely prepared for reuse. In parallel legislation several
years ago, the Navy was ordered to convey its Kaho'olawe Island range to
the State of Hawai'i, before cleanup had even commenced, but in that
case, Congress established a massive trust fund to undertake the
environmental response. In the absence of funding assurances, the
cleanup of western Vieques may be incomplete and/or slow.

Should similar legislation is applied to the eastern half of the island,
it could lead to the creation of a national sacrifice zone.

If legislation is required for the Navy to turn over any of its Vieques
property to Puerto Rico and its people, then the law should be developed
in the full sunshine of public opinion. I suggest that the consideration
of the legislation be moved from the committee backroom to the hearing
room. In fact, Congress should display good faith with the people of
Puerto Rico by holding field hearings soon - in San Juan or on Vieques -
on the transfer and cleanup of the Naval Ammunition Depot, and it should
invite representatives of the protesters to testify.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/968-1126

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