‘Waste rules’ vote could hasten receiver’s exit

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Sens. Telena Nelson and Fernando Esteves confer during a break on the second consecutive day of session at the Guam Congress Building on Tuesday morning.

Sen. BJ Cruz: “I’m not a solid waste expert or a radioactive waste expert…but I do know one thing, that a couple of us have suffered ten years of court hearings.”

Guam – After a decade under the management of a federal court-appointed receiver, it seems Guam Solid Waste Authority is finally nearing the legislature’s approval of its court-ordered rules and regulations. Assuming this hurdle is as close to cleared as it appears, the management of the island’s refuse stream is almost back in the hands of the Government of Guam. And, if so, passage into law will soon be in the hands of the governor.

Noting the long, drawn-out handoff from receiver to Solid Waste Authority, Sen. Telena Nelson (D), is determined to get rules and regulations in place at GSWA well before the end of this year.

“In an order dated December 1, 2017, the court ordered the board, its legal counsel, and new general manager to begin drafting and updating the new operational rules and regulations,” Nelson told colleagues gathered at the Guam Congress Building for the second consecutive day of session. But not all of her colleagues were in quite the same hurry.

“So, I think with the issue of radioactive waste…maybe it should just be made very clear that GSWA will not collect or accept at the Layon Landfill any radioactive waste,” Sen. Tom Ada (D) said.

Ada’s concern stems from a section of Nelson’s Bill No. 273-34 (COR), “relative to adopting the Guam Solid Waste Authority’s Rules and Regulations for solid waste management operations,” to wit:

Article 5. Radioactive Waste.

¶ 6501. The Hauler-Only Transfer Stations and the Layon Landfill are equipped with radiation detection sensors. Each load delivered to these facilities shall be screened.

¶ 6502. In the event radioactive waste is detected in a load, that load will not be accepted.

¶ 6503. If the radioactive waste is brought to the facilities by a GWSA vehicle, said waste shall be placed in a secure container until the radiation subsides, as determined by properly trained and permitted personnel, and material can be properly disposed.

¶ 6504. If the radioactive material is brought to the facilities in a private or non-GSWA government vehicle, the waste will not be accepted and the hauler can either 1) have GSWA place the material  […] in a secure container until the radiation subsides and the material can be properly disposed for a fee (which is charged by properly permitted private entities that accept such waste); or 2) leave the facilities and have matter handled separately by properly trained and permitted personnel selected by the hauler owning the vehicle in which the radioactive material is detected.

“You know, having worked in solid waste, I think there’s kind of a misunderstanding of what we’re talking about,” Sen. Fernando Esteves (D) said. The Layon [Municipal Sanitary Landfill] can take waste that has low levels of radiation. And this is pretty much focused on radioactive waste that’s from medical treatment, so radioactive isotopes. So, as I’m reading this, the trained handlers at Layon could receive the waste, because they’re trained handlers, and then they could dispose of it properly at Layon.”

Sen. Michael San Nicolas’s reading of ¶ 6503 takes “GWSA vehicle” to mean an everyday disposal truck, and it concerns him that an incontinent solid waste transportation vehicle might be used to haul radioactive material. “I don’t think it’s a trash truck able to handle radioactive waste,” San Nicolas (D) said. “I’ve been behind garbage trucks; you can see them dripping sometimes.”

Current law states that “All solid waste collection transportation vehicles used by DPW authorized solid waste collection contractors, shall be maintained and operated as to prevent spillage of solid wastes, leakage of liquids or emission of offensive odors therefrom.” But anyone familiar with residential garbage pickup knows local garbage trucks leak.

The pending rules state, in part, that “Any spillage or displaced litter caused as a result of the duties of the solid waste collectors shall be collected and placed in the transportation vehicle by the solid waste collectors.”

Whatever senators’ concerns about the details of the proposed rules and regulations, other colleagues reason that after ten years of receivership, federal litigation, and a pronounced lack of local control, it’s best to leave the experts to sort out the trash, because it’s high time GovGuam shows the court it means business.

“I understand that I’m not a solid waste expert or a radioactive waste expert…but I do know one thing, that a couple of us have suffered ten years of court hearings,” Sen. BJ Cruz (D) said.

Nelson’s rules and regs bill is on the checklist of items that need to be in place by the time Guam Solid Waste Authority finally takes the trash truck keys back from federal receiver Gershman, Brickner & Bratton Solid Waste Management Consultants on January 1, 2019.

Last week the U.S. District Court of Guam ordered a six-month extension under GBB management, since GWSA could not assume management of Guam’s solid waste flow without court-ordered rules and regulations enacted into law. So, Judge Francis Tydingco Gatewood gave GBB another half year. But this isn’t the first six-month extension.

Late last year, the court ordered an extension from December 31, 2017 to June 30, 2018 to allow GBB to manage the Ordot Dump’s post-closure, as well as that capped and shuttered facility’s methane gas mitigation plan. The court also found that new management at GWSA would need more time to get up to speed with the receiver’s successful solid waste management systems. And it ordered the Solid Waste Board and general manager to draft those waste management rules for legislative approval.

Now that these rules have been drafted, last Friday the court ordered this most recent six-month extension to December 31 of this year, allowing more time for Ordot mitigation, and approval of management rules by the legislature.

Nelson’s Bill 273 reached the legislature’s third reading file on Tuesday. Session resumes after Independence Day.