EPA, Navy Reach Agreement For Cleanup of Former Military Facility

On Jan. 26, EPA announced that an agreement had been reached with the U.S. Navy that will govern all current and future environmental cleanup work at the former Naval Station Roosevelt Roads base in Puerto Rico, which closed in March 2004. The agreement follows an open public process in which EPA and the U.S. Navy held a meeting and received and responded to multiple comments as part of a 30-day public comment period.

"This agreement with the Navy begins the process of ensuring that the former base can once again be an asset to the residents of Ceiba, Naguabo and to all of Puerto Rico," said EPA Region 2 Administrator Alan J. Steinberg. "We will continue to provide strict oversight over the cleanup and transfer of properties to ensure that the environment and the health of the community are protected."

The agreement allows the U.S. Navy to transfer most of the facility -- including 3,333 acres of wetlands and other conservation areas, 1,851 acres for airport and port-related operations, and 291 acres for economic development purposes -- to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and to local municipal governments. In addition, the Navy has stated that it intends to sell the remaining portions of the property to private buyers. If portions of the property are sold or transferred, then those buyers would be responsible for any necessary cleanup and could be required to enter into separate legal agreements with EPA. Under federal law, the Navy is ultimately responsible for completing cleanups of the former Navy lands if they are not completed by the buyers of the property. Several limited portions of the property will be transferred to other federal agencies. The commonwealth has created a local authority to develop a master land use plan to control reuse and development of the entire facility.

The 8,600 acre former military facility is about 33 miles southeast of San Juan and is bordered on all sides except the west by the Caribbean Sea. It includes a port facility, a major airfield complex and two uninhabited offshore islands that were used for military training. Contamination at the facility is primarily from the operation and maintenance of aircraft, water craft and vehicles at the site since 1941. It contains small arms ranges and other weapons training areas, but no bombing ranges. Areas of potential environmental concern at the site include:

  • An active 85-acre landfill, which will be capped and monitored on a long-term basis.
  • Storage areas for petroleum, which have contaminated groundwater.
  • Electrical transformer and pesticide storage areas, from which contaminated soils will be removed and disposed of at licensed off-site facilities.
  • Two offshore islands where preliminary investigations into munitions-related contamination are underway.
  • A defunct power plant at which outdoor structures have been decontaminated, contaminated soils have been removed and properly disposed, and investigations have confirmed that the interior of the building is contaminated.
  • A group of large and small, long-abandoned landfills, which are in various stages of evaluation.

The final agreement between EPA and the Navy and the responses to public comments are available at http://www.epa.gov/region02/waste/fsroosev.htm.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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