2000 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2000 15:15:23 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Vieques legislation
Title XV of the Conference Committee version of the National Defense
Authorization Act for fiscal year 2001, H.R. 5408, contains the language
that will govern the future of Navy facilities on the Puerto Rican
island of Vieques. The language governing the future of the Naval
Ammunition Support Detachment on the western third of the island is
based on the Skelton Amendment to the House bill. The language governing
the future of the Naval Training Range is based upon the Senate
language. However, there appear to be minor, but important changes. I
will try to summarize the Title based upon a quick review.

Over half of the Ammunition Detachment will be directly transferred to
the municipality of Vieques by May 1, 2001. The Navy will retain a radar
facility, a communications facility, and supporting easements and
infrastructure. Existing conservation zones - totaling 3,100 acres -
will be conveyed to the Department of Interior by that date, and as much
as 800 additional acres may be transferred to the Puerto Rico
Conservation Trust. The Interior and Trust properties will be managed as
Wildlife Refuges under a Cooperative Agreement among Interior, the
Conservation Trust, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Section 1502 still contains the waiver of the provision in CERCLA (the
Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act,
or Superfund Law) that generally requires that remedies be in place
before transfer. As I wrote a few months ago, such a waiver unacceptably
reduces the pressure on the Navy to executive a timely cleanup, but it
is mitigated by other changes in the legislation:

1) The largest contaminated area, the open burning/open detonation area,
will remain in federal hands as an Interior Department wildlife refuge,
so it is not subject to the CERCLA transfer provision.

2) Moving the transfer deadline from January 1 to May 1 gives the Navy
more time to execute cleanup and to complete the assurances necessary to
utilize the existing "Early Transfer" portion of the law.

3) Under the new language Navy now has the authority to retain "Any
easements, rights-of-way, and other interests in property that the
Secretary of the Navy determines necessary for protecting human health
and the environment in the discharge of the Secretary's responsibilities
for environmental remediation under section 1502(c), until such time as
these responsibilities are completed."

The bill also includes language governing the referendum called upon in
President Clinton's January 31, 2000 directive. The voters of Vieques
will be given the option of voting to allow up to 90 days a year of
live-fire training in and over the Training Range. If they approve the
training, "the people and communities of the island of Vieques" will
receive a $50 million "economic assistance" pay-off above the $40
million automatically provided by the legislation.

If they vote down continued training, the Navy will be bound to stop
training operations by May 1, 2003. All Defense property on the eastern
side of the island, including the Impact Area and conservation zones, 
will be transferred to the U.S. Department of Interior, whether it wants
it or not. (Interior has a policy against accepting, in most cases where
it has the statutory choice, land contaminated with unexploded
ordnance.) Interior will permanently manage the 900-acre Impact Area as
a Wilderness and will be required to deny public access. Interior will
manage the remainder of the training areas as Wildlife Refuges,
including areas not now considered conservation zones, "pending the
enactment of a law that addresses the disposition of such properties."

The final legislation represents a victory for President Clinton and
Puerto Rican governor Pedro Rossello. On the assumption the Vieques
voters will reject the Navy's plea for continued live-fire training, it
lays the groundwork for the eventual, but delayed success for the
opponents of the bombing range. But it leaves unanswered key questions
about the future use, management, and cleanup of the island.

In particular - assuming that voters reject live-fire training - it will
leave Interior with the responsibility of protecting the public from the
explosive hazards within and beyond the impact areas, but it promises no
funding to carry out that obligation. Remediation of unexploded ordnance
now on or buried in the land would be expensive, if somehow the Navy is
required to carry it out. Remediation of tidal areas is probably
impractical at this point. And even effective access controls would be
difficult and costly to maintain over the indefinite life of the
explosive hazards.

Lenny Siegel

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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