Sunday, December 5, 2021

Puerto Rico Landfills on Verge of Being Shut Down

By on December 8, 2016

SAN JUAN—During the ninth day of government transition hearings Wednesday, Environmental Quality Board (EQB) President Weldín Ortiz Franco acknowledged that Puerto Rico faces a serious waste management problem, with most landfills on the island being in non-compliance with U.S. federal regulations and under threat of being shut down in the coming years.

CANTERBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 23: A bull dozer moves rubbish at the Shelford Landfill, Recycling & Composting Centre on August 23, 2007 near Canterbury, England. The Shelford landfill site, run by Viridor Waste Management receives 200 truck loads of waste weighing 2100 metric tonnes a day. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

In his testimony before the transition committee at the Department of State building in Old San Juan, Ortiz Franco recommended to the incoming Ricardo Rosselló administration to address the issue urgently to prevent further problems down the road.

“Out of 29 landfills, only 10 comply with federal regulations. There’s a problem with solid waste management and recycling benchmarks have not been met,” said Ortiz Franco, further explaining that nowadays, many landfills fail with federal compliance out of the gate because the trash cannot be taken out to install a landfill liner, which delays the migration of waste by-product to nearby bodies of water. “Because they are not in compliance, they will certainly close, and Puerto Rico must be ready for that.”

The EQB president, who was recently under fire in the Legislature due to the controversy generated by an ash disposal facility in Peñuelas, said that since 2014 his agency revoked a special exemption to AES, a coal power plant, which required the company to properly dispose of its ash waste.

“They [AES] had asked to be exempted from waste management regulations. It was under the condition that they would export the [ashes] and that they would not store them for longer than 180 days.  In 2000, AES again asked to be exempted, and in 2002 stated operations. However, the mountain of ashes [where it was stored] continued growing, and inspectors realized that it was posing a health hazard to nearby communities. This led us to revoke the exemption and required them to dispose the ashes. They have a permit to export it,” Ortiz Franco explained.

“Do you know we are at this juncture regarding the ashes because of the decisions made by your agency,” Luis Gerardo Rivera Marín, a member of the incoming transition committee and State Secretary-designate, asked.

“No, this administration has done more about the issue than any other,” Ortiz Franco responded. “We did not look aside, and addressed the issue instead. The choice now is to export or dispose of the ashes until they eventually build a building capable of storing the ashes without risk. Although they are not toxic, [coal ashes] are still a waste product, and depending on how they are managed, there’s a risk factor involved.”

Planning Board Hobbled

During an earlier turn, the president of the Puerto Rico Planning Board, Luis García Pelatti, had said that the government had forgotten his agency’s role as a fiscal planner.

“You have to measure the economy properly. The world works with [reference] prices from 2008 and we operate with prices from 1954. Next year Puerto Rico will have an updated topographic map because the one we have is from 1954. The Board disappeared from an economic point of view. The agency has been deteriorating. We have 43 employees and have been making further cuts. Gathering the information must be made by the entity that knows the economic data, “said García Pelatti.

The Planning Board president also insisted that allegations of plagiarism surrounding the latest draft of Land Use Plan were unfounded, and thus did not prompt any punitive measures against the employees involved.

“There is no plagiarism or violation of copyright law. It is important to clarify that plagiarism does not in the case of public documents. In this field, one tends to use best practices, such as for example the Miami plan, which has been replicated in several places. It is a planning tool. Puerto Rico today has a Land Use Plan based on its reality with objectives that coincide with the 1994 plan by 87%,” he said.

García Pelatti acknowledged that his agency is in breach of the Law 66 of Fiscal Sustainability in the subject of politically appointed employees because if it complied with the law, it would have left the agency without a department director.

Transition views resume Thursday with presentations by the Department of Health, the Mental Health and Addiction Services Administration, the Health Insurance Administration, the Medical Services Administration, the Cardiovascular and Caribbean Center Corporation and the Compressive Cancer Center.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login