• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

GovGuam failures prompt court to extend solid waste receivership

Unconvinced that the government of Guam is ready to regain control of the solid waste management, the federal court has backpedaled on its earlier decision to end the federal receivership by Dec. 31, hinting that the receiver Gershman, Brickner & Bratton Inc. may have to stay on board for a much longer period until the remaining work on Ordot’s post-closure is complete.

“The court concurs with the United States that it would be more efficient for the receiver to remain to complete this matter,” chief federal judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood said in a decision Friday.

“This is a critical public health issue, and the receiver has both the expertise and historical knowledge to finish this work in a timely manner. At this juncture, the court is uncertain whether the Receivership will terminate on December 31, 2017, as originally contemplated, or whether only a portion of GSWA’s operations will be turned over to the GSWA Board for management.”

The court earlier this year agreed to return control of the solid waste management system to the local government, supposedly lifting the almost a decade-long federal receivership that cost millions. GBB was appointed federal receiver on March 17, 2008, resulting from Guam’s failure to comply with a 2004 consent decree that stemmed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit for violation of the Clean Water Act.

In a May 23 decision, Tydingco-Gatewood ordered the Guam Solid Waste Authority board to prepare for transition and begin taking a more active role in solid waste system operations. GSWA, however, has failed to fulfill a number of court-ordered requirements.

In addition to the unfinished work on the Ordot’s post-closure plan, the federal court also found out that the budget issues has yet to resolved. The court shares GBB’s concern about GSWA being underfunded.

“Even the new general manager hired by the GSWA Board agreed that the $7 million approved budget would not be sufficient. The receiver estimates that a more realistic budget for FY 2018 would be approximately $19 million,” the court said.

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The court argued that without an increase in the approved budget, GSWA would not have the ability to pay its bills or fund the required reserves.

In order to ensure a smooth transition, the court ordered the GSWA Board to submit to the Guam Legislature a revised FY 2018 budget for the Legislature’s approval. Otherwise, the judge said, “Any transition is doomed to fail almost immediately.”

More than one year after its issuance, the Government of Guam and the GSWA Board object to the financing plan approved by the court and have asked the court to reconsider the appointment of a trustee.

The court also noted that the GSWA board has still not hired a comptroller, and that there is no definite date when a comptroller will be on board. “The individual selected will be in charge of the finances for this multimillion-dollar solid waste system, and it will take some time for the comptroller to become familiar with all the requirements of the job.

Another issue that remained unresolved is the draft rules and regulations, which the solid waste board has yet to finalize. The court noted that these rules and regulations must still undergo the approval process set forth in Guam’s Administrative Adjudication Law, a process that can take several months. The GSWA Board has yet to determine whether they intend to adopt any of these rules and regulations after the receivership terminates.

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