The government of Guam will finally regain full control of the island’s solid waste operations, ending more than a decade of federal receivership under Gershman Brickner and Bratton that cost the taxpayers $200 million.
Federal Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Wednesday issued a preliminary order restoring the solid waste management system’s day-to-day operations to the Guam Solid Waste Authority effective April 30.
“[Judge Tydingco-Gatewood] was feeling very comfortable and good about ending the receivership. I think she recognized the new administration and our strong commitment to continue on and sustain what the program is now,” Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero told a press conference in Adelup. “And not just sustain, but improve and expand as we need to.”
Guam’s solid waste system was placed under federal receivership on March 17, 2008. This was the result of GovGuam’s failure to comply with the mandates of a consent decree that stemmed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lawsuit against GovGuam over the poorly managed Ordot Dump in violation of the Clean Water Act.
The consent decree, signed on Feb. 11, 2004, required the territorial government to shut down Ordot Dump, cease all discharges into the Lonfit River, open a new municipal solid waste landfill facility, and implement recycling strategies to reduce the volume of materials going into the landfill.
The mandates were eventually undertaken by GBB. A new landfill opened in Layon in 2011, while Ordot Dump was officially closed in 2016. Throughout the receivership period, GovGuam and GBB had been in conflict over finances and solid waste management policy.
The construction of the new landfill and the closure of Ordot Dump were funded by a $202 million bond issued by the Camacho administration in 2009. In 2010, an audit by the Office of the Public Accountability estimated that the landfill bond would result in an average annual debt service requirement of $15 million and that the cost to government would reach $423 million by 2035. This amount is on top of the payments made to GBB, which had been paid $4.05 million during its first year, according to OPA’s 2010 audit.
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While gearing up for solid waste management takeover, GovGuam scrounges new funds for post-Ordot closure plans and the expansion of Layon landfill. The two cells of the Layon landfill are projected to hit their maximum capacity by 2021.The Guam Solid Waste Authority said building a new cell is estimated to cost $25 million.
“With the Guam Economic Development Authority leading the effort to ensure the financing plan for the Layon Landfill Cell 3 and Ordot Dump post closure care, Judge Tydingco-Gatewood was extremely impressed and expressed her satisfaction with the efficiency and effectiveness in collaborating with local and federal stakeholders to gain a consensus on an acceptable financing plan for these projects,” Leon Guerrero said.
Sen. Sabina Perez earlier introduced Bill 79-35 that would authorize the government to issue bonds to finance the construction of anew cell.
“I am really proud of the meticulous and expeditious work by GEDA and members of my fiscal discipline team,” Leon Guerrero said. “They knew that the financing plan to construct a new landfill, relieve the federal receiver, and continue monitoring Ordot Dump was going to be critical for our administration to demonstrate and they delivered by collaborating with the GSWA Board, the Attorney General’s Office, Sen. Sabina Perez and my legal team.”
The old Ordot dump, meanwhile, is on its way to becoming a park, according to the governor. “If you guys go to the landfill in Ordot, my gosh, it is totally changed and you can drive up to the very top and look at the view,” Leon Guerrero said. “It’s now a mountain and I think it’s a very well created, well established mountain.”
The federal court lifted the receivership in May 2017 and GBB’s term as federal receiver was originally set to expire on Dec. 31, 2018. However, the court extended GBB’s contract due to the local government’s failure to complete its court-mandated tasks.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Leon Guerrero said, “I think our team did a great job the three times we were in court and the judge, herself, from the bench acknowledged our lightning speed in doing the things that we needed to do to meet the requirements so that she could make her decision about the order to end the receivership.”
Ordot dump has been among the contentious issues between the local and federal governments. Pending in federal court is a lawsuit filed in 2017 by the Calvo administration, seeking to hold the U.S. government accountable for its part in contaminating Ordot dump, which was built in 1940s.
“The federal court has tested all the patience left in the attorney general and myself. Hearing after hearing, no matter what we do to make right by our people and their health, the Court is unrelenting in sticking it to our people and letting an outside receiver make ridiculous profit at our expense,” former Gov. Eddie Calvo said in his 2017 State of the Island address. “We are suing the federal government for its responsibility over the true source of contamination of our natural resources.” (With additional reports from Bruce Lloyd)