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Municipalities Agree to Close Vega Baja and Florida Landfills; EPA Orders Land Authority and One Operator to Cooperate

Release Date: 06/26/2007
Contact Information: Richard Cahill (212) 637-3666, cahill.richard@epa.gov or Brenda Reyes (787) 977-5869, reyes.brenda@epa.gov

(San Juan, P.R.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that the municipalities of Vega Baja and Florida have signed agreements with EPA requiring them to close their landfills completely by the spring of 2010, and make conditions safer during the period in which the landfills will remain in operation. EPA was forced, however, to order the Puerto Rico Land Authority, which owns the property on which the Vega Baja landfill is located, and the operator of the landfill in Florida to participate in the closure process after they refused to sign landfill closure agreements. The Land Authority and Waste Disposal Management, Inc., the Florida operator, could face statutory penalties of up to $6,500 per day if specific deadlines in the plans to close the Vega Baja and Florida landfills are not met.

“These two municipalities have really stepped up to the plate by agreeing to do the right thing for their communities and for the environment, and I am hopeful that this is the start of a trend toward proper management of solid waste across the Island,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “Now, the Commonwealth has begun the process of developing a comprehensive solid waste plan for all of Puerto Rico. EPA is committed to working closely with the Commonwealth to ensure that the final plan will encompass multiple options that have been proven effective in properly managing solid waste. Such a plan is essential to the protection of Puerto Rico’s environment and the health of its residents.

In May 2006, EPA proposed that the landfills close because, after being operated in an unsafe manner over a long period of time, they pose a potential threat to drinking water sources (both ground water and surface water), surrounding land and, in the case of the Vega Baja landfill, marine resources.

Under two orders on consent, the municipalities of Florida and Vega Baja have agreed to stop taking waste at their landfills by the end of 2009, to put measures into place to control pollution from the landfills, such as systems to collect and treat liquid seepage, to complete final closure by the spring of 2010, and to monitor and maintain the closed landfills into the future. The unilateral orders issued by EPA compel the Puerto Rico Land Authority and Waste Disposal Management, Inc. to share responsibility with the municipalities in the proper closure of these landfills.

Prior to signing these agreements with the municipalities and issuing the orders to the Land Authority and private contractor, EPA held public meetings in Vega Baja and Florida to hear what people had to say about the Agency’s plans to close the existing landfills. In general, both communities favored closing the landfills and expressed concerns about contaminants that might be leaking from them.

For more information on landfills in Puerto Rico visit: http://www.epa.gov/region02/cepd/solidwaste_in_puerto_rico.html

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