Friday, August 24, 2007

Legal Risks With Dandan Landfill Project

GovGuam faces legal risks in Dandan project
By Gina Tabonares
Variety News Staff
August 23, 2007

GOVERNMENT of Guam authorities who decided to pick Dandan as the site of a new landfill could be held accountable for the $10 million in public funds should further study support an option to condemn the area.
The risk of being questioned for the selection of Dandan came up yesterday as members of the Solid Waste Law Review Commission discussed the status of the pending court cases related to Guam’s solid waste management issues.
During the second meeting of the newly created commission, LRC chairman Sen. James Espaldon, R-Tamuning, talked about the synopsis of the pending litigations and the history of the landfill site selection efforts, as well as the status and scope of work that has been done in connection with GovGuam’s compliance with the consent decree to close the Ordot Dump and open a new landfill.
After Deputy Attorney General Patrick Mason briefed the commission on the four pending cases, representatives from the Guam Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Public Works were asked about the basis for selecting Dandan or Layon as the next landfill location.
The four cases are the USA v. GovGuam that resulted in the consent decree signed before the U.S. District Court of Guam; Pangelinan v. Camacho which questions the validity of the solid waste management agreement between GovGuam and GRRP; San Miguel v. Department of Public Works; and GRRP v. GovGuam pending before the Superior Court of Guam.
The case in federal court is waiting for a decision by Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood based on the report and recommendation made by Magistrate Judge Joaquin Manibusan.
The cases of San Miguel and Pangelinan are both pending in the Supreme Court of Guam, while the GRRP lawsuit wherein the plaintiff seeks to recover $10 million from GovGuam for breach of the agreement is also pending in trial court.
Close to $10 million in government funds have been spent and an additional $20 million is needed to determine whether Dandan is suited for the landfill project.
Despite findings that Dandan has numerous environmental challenges and should be protected for water resources, the government is still considering Dandan pending the result of the nine-month hydrogeological study that will ascertain if the site is worth all the further mitigation expenses.
Atty. Ray Haddock of the Office of the Governor said there is an option to condemn the Dandan site, but they are waiting for the results of the further study before they decide to pick an alternative site.
The condemnation of the Dandan project could mean that the $10 million spent in the area was another waste of public funds.
A legal observer who requested anonymity told Variety that such waste of public funds could mean negligence and GovGuam officials could be held liable for their irresponsible dispersing of government monies.
The discussion on selecting Dandan heated up when Sen. Tina Muna Barnes, D-Mangilao, asked GEPA representatives about the basis and criteria used in the selection of the property.
Conchita Taitano, GEPA Air and Land Division director, said every single report was looked at, and there were 20 sites identified.
From the original list of prospective sites, the number was reduced to 12, then to six, and then to the top three candidates: Lonfit, Sabanan Batea, and Dandan/Layon.
Taitano added that GovGuam didn’t have a lot of money to conduct environmental impact studies on all potential landfill sites and the elimination of Guatali was based on its failure to meet several criteria such as slope, size and the presence of faults.
Guam Resource Recovery Partners coordinator David Sablan, however, informed the commission that the criteria were not part of the U.S. Environemntal Protection Agency’s standards and were only created by GEPA officials.
Silence ensued when an observer asked LRC members whether it was proper to spend $10 million on the location without proper property acquisition.
Attorney General Alicia Limtiaco said government work on site-specific projects can actually begin with acquired simple ownership and not a whole ownership.
However, the observer questioned why government funds had to be used on a location that has a number of challenges.
The same challenges prompted senators to introduce a bill that prohibits GovGuam from using public funds in any landfill construction site in the absence of property ownership.
The San Miguel case also aimed to prevent GovGuam from further expenditure on the Dandan project while stressing that Guatali has been identified as the primary site for new landfill and Malaa as the secondary site under Public Law 23-95.
Barnes added that a study conducted by the Guam Waterworks Authority recommended that Dandan not be used as a landfill site.
“The study made in January stated that the water level has kept re-surfacing and it will need additional infrastructure to meet the environmental challenges. The study was not released to the public,” she told the commission.
While LRC recognized that their decision-making is tied to the pending cases, the members agreed to outline viable alternative recommendations should the courts issue a decision on the pending litigations.
The commission will meet again on Wednesday morning.

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