04 May 2012

EPA keeps eye on proposed disposal of tsunami debris on Pagan:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is keeping an eye on a plan to ship pretreated tsunami debris from Japan to the CNMI island of Pagan for disposal and recycling.

CNMI residents expressing opposition to the project have been looking forward to hearing from EPA on the matter.

The Japanese investor group also plans to mine at least 10 million metric tons of pozzolan on Pagan for 10 to 15 years.

Oku Shigeharu, chairman of Japan Southwest Islands Security Institute and one of those who visited Pagan on Friday, said the tsunami debris that they plan to bring to Pagan will be pretreated and certified as such by the Japanese government, non-toxic, and non-radioactive. He said they are very much aware of Japanese and international laws that prohibit the shipment of highly toxic materials from one country to another.

He said at least 80 percent of the tsunami debris from Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures will be recycled on Pagan and brought back to Japan and other destinations.

The U.S. federal law that regulates the management of non-hazardous solid waste, which includes disposal landfills and some other means, is Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA.

EPA Region 9 administrator Jared Blumenfeld, in a reply to an email interview, said yesterday that all those dealing with solid waste in the CNMI as well as everywhere else in the United States must comply with this law.

The CNMI Division of Environmental Quality is delegated to implement and carry out the requirements and enforcement of the provisions of the RCRA Subtitle D law and its regulations. DEQ is the lead decision-making authority overseeing solid waste management in CNMI.

As for the disposal of hazardous waste, DEQ has not been authorized by EPA to carry out the requirements, enforcement, and oversight under the federal law, particularly RCRA Subtitle C.

“In the CNMI, U.S. EPA remains the primary agency with oversight of the management of hazardous waste disposal,” Blumenfeld told Saipan Tribune.

In addition and separate from RCRA, a project may be subject to other requirements, such as, if a proposed project requires a federal permit, is federally funded, or needs other federal approval, it may be subject to the National Environmental Policy Act requirements, Blumenfeld said. That may include the need to complete an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement.

“In addition, building a harbor or dock or airstrip facilities that may require placement of dredged or fill material in waters of the U.S., including wetlands and other special aquatic sites under the Clean Water Act and its regulations, would require an U.S. Army Corps permit,” the EPA Region 9 administrator added.

EPA Region 9 covers California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, the CNMI, Guam and other Pacific Islands, as well as 147 tribal nations.

This early, some CNMI residents have expressed opposition to the plan of turning Pagan into a tsunami debris disposal and recycling island.

Efrain F. Camacho, president of EFC Engineers & Architects, said that based on his experience, mining pozzolan on Pagan and bringing tsunami debris to the island is a “losing proposition.”

“It will be very difficult. The federal permitting alone will take years, maybe five years. And it will need only one person to take them to court and it will get stuck in court for years,” Camacho said.

There is also, of course, local permitting, which could also take considerable time.
“But if this project is supported by the administration, local permitting may not take long. It's the federal permitting process that will take much longer. That may include getting approval from EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers,” Camacho added.

Camacho, a former Saipan Chamber of Commerce president, said that their experience with the construction of the former Hotel Nikko, for example, took them three years to hurdle the federal permitting process.

The Japanese investors, after visiting Pagan on Friday morning to afternoon, met with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos Friday night.

Press secretary Angel Demapan, when asked for comment, said the governor and lieutenant governor have requested “a business plan that would entail what exactly these investors have planned for both the proposed shipment of debris, recycling of material, and mining and shipment of pozzolan.”

“Once a plan is submitted, the governor and lieutenant governor will review it and make decisions based on what is best for the Commonwealth as a whole,” he said.

The CNMI government has for years wanted to earn revenue from pozzolan deposits on Pagan, but the costly logistics, especially the shipment of material, has been restricting this type of endeavor.

Isamu Tokuichi, chairman of the board of Kansai Oil Co. and president of New Energy Corp., is leading a group of Japanese investors in planning to mine pozzolan. To offset the shipping costs, they plan to bring in pretreated and mostly recyclable tsunami debris from Japan to Pagan, and then load the same ship with pozzolan from Pagan to Japan.

Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan) said the Japanese government pays for the off-site disposal of tsunami debris.

Source: Saipan Tribune. By Haidee V. Eugenio. 3 May 2012

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