Ordot Dump “could probably explode” due to methane gas pollution

Guam’s case seeks to hold the US Navy accountable for their share of dumping toxic waste at the Ordot Dump. (PNC file photo)

Judge Gatewood may keep the federal receivership beyond December in order to oversee the cleanup of methane gas at the Ordot landfill.

Guam – As lawmakers debate a bill to address the budget shortfall for the Guam Solid Waste Authority, which has the potential to delay the transition from federal receivership, another, possibly more important, issue is the presence of methane gas at the old Ordot landfill.

That was noted in Chief District Court Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood’s order issued last Friday in anticipation of the the transition back to GovGuam control.

But outside of the concern over methane gas pollution, the transition for the solid waste receivership is “doomed to fail,” as noted by Judge Gatewood, based on the FY2018 budget of just $7 million, which is $12 million less than the budget GSWA operated on last fiscal year.

Sen. Tom Ada hopes to overcome that challenge with a bill that’s now making its way through session.

The federal receivership for the island’s solid waste system may not end by December 31 of this year, as was anticipated by all stakeholders. Instead, a number of outstanding issues could postpone an already delayed transition.

In her order, Judge Gatewood admonished the government of Guam for failing to act in a timely manner on a number of these issues.

One of the bigger concerns is the operating budget for GSWA. The Guam Legislature approved a fiscal year 2018 budget of just $7 million, which is $12 million less than the $19 million the federal receiver operated under in the last fiscal year. Sen. Tom Ada, who has oversight of the agency hopes to resolve this budget snafu with a bill that’s on this morning’s session agenda, which passed unanimously by the end of the day.

“It amends that $7 million appropriation and brings it up to the full $19 million. The addtiional $12 million is there. That’s from the revenues that are being collected so we’re not, so there’s no problem about do we have the additional $12 million not coming out of the general fund,” noted Sen. Ada.

If that additional appropriation isn’t passed into law and included in GSWA’s FY2018 budget, Judge Gatewood said “any transition is doomed to fail almost immediately.”

Another area of concern is in the post-closure care for Ordot Dump which still has not be approved by the U.S. EPA and Guam EPA because of the issue of methane gas. Sen. Ada agrees that it’s enough of a public health concern.

“Right now in order to really bring that under control, Ordot Dump is generating methane gas and that has to be handled properly, otherwise that whole thing could probably explode if it’s not handled properly. So they need to hire an engineer that would basically oversee that operation and then they also need to contract an operator to just be looking after the Ordot–that Ordot project,” said Ada.

Judge Gatewood expressed skepticism over GovGuam’s ability to address this issue and recommends that federal receivers Gershman Brickner and Bratton continue as receivers at least on this matter.

Finally, there’s the issue about filling positions for employment. About half of all the employees at GSWA are contract workers and it’s not clear how GSWA will fill those positions after the transition. The receiver recommends hiring those contractors as classified GovGuam employees, but GovGuam and Sen. Ada would rather extend their contracts by another three years.

“Unfortunately what the receiver wanted, he wanted to take the solid waste technicians that are currently on board and make them classified employees. Well we can’t do that because first of all there’s certain requirements. You gotta be a high school graduate. Well, so what do you do with a solid waste technician that’s not a high school graduate? You can’t put that rule aside,” explained Ada.

These issues will be discussed at a status hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning at District Court.