Governor announces solid waste infrastructure strategy
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, along with Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado, announced on Wednesday the government’s emergency strategy for solid waste infrastructure in order to address the situation of non-compliance of several landfills on the island with federal and commonwealth environmental regulations.
The governor also announced the allocation of funds for carrying out Puerto Rico’s solid waste infrastructure.
“Today we announce a group of initiatives aimed at addressing this challenge that affects us in the present and will become too serious in the future. We are giving a sense of urgency to the management of our solid waste to ensure that the landfills on the island comply with state and federal rules and regulations,” the governor said at a press conference. “For more than 20 years, the necessary actions to deal with non-compliance with environmental laws on waste management in our landfills and landfill systems have been postponed. In some cases, [the landfills] are not in compliance due to deficiencies in their designs or because they reached the end of their useful life, among other problems that have persisted for decades.”
Pierluisi went on to detail the short- and long-term steps to address the problem, since out of 29 landfills in Puerto Rico, only 10 are in compliance.
The governor noted that at the same time that immediate actions are taken, the DNER will issue a request for proposals (RFP) for a study to characterize solid waste in order to have an X-ray of the waste generated on the island. In turn, another RFP will be for a long-term recycling management plan to be established.
The 10 sanitary landfill systems (SRS by the Spanish initials) that are in compliance and that can continue to operate are in Carolina, Fajardo, Hormigueros, Juncos, Ponce, Salinas, Humacao and Yauco, and two are in Peñuelas.
The governor said the SRS’s that will be brought into environmental compliance and will have lateral expansion are: Barranquitas, Cabo Rojo, Lajas, Moca, Mayagüez, Vieques, Culebra and Toa Baja. Meanwhile, the Añasco, Vega Baja, Juana Díaz and Jayuya landfills are being evaluated for possible expansion under the new infrastructure plan.
In accordance with the environmental regulations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the following landfills have a closure order: Arecibo, Arroyo, Cayey, Guayama, Florida, Isabela and Toa Alta.
Due to the difficult fiscal situation of the municipalities, Pierluisi is initially allocating $31 million of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the stipulated closures, in compliance with federal and commonwealth environmental regulations.
It was also announced that transfer stations will be established and/or maintained to help reduce the impact that the closures have on the municipalities.
In that way the central government will provide significant support to the municipalities so that the scheduled closures can be carried out. In addition to the ARPA funds, the government will be allocating federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) funds and the DNER has access to $40 million allocated by the EPA. Additionally, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grants to municipalities and state capital improvement funds will be used.
Machargo Maldonado stated that “this SRS closure plan addresses the core elements required to address solid waste management for future years.”
“Among these, we must highlight the following: identification of SRS facilities whose closure of operations is a priority; identification of the economic resources for the closure of those facilities in full compliance with state and federal regulations; and identification of the funds required for the construction of new infrastructure for the management, disposal and recycling of solid waste,” the DNER chief said.
The governor added that the strategy to bring the sanitary landfill systems into compliance and to provide support to the municipalities goes hand in hand with efforts to promote recycling.
“The CDBG-MIT funds that are allocated will help to renew the existing recycling structure on the island,” Pierluisi said. “We will encourage the collection centers to increase recycling. We have to continue promoting the reuse and reduction of solid waste as the way forward for us to have a cleaner Puerto Rico.”
It was also announced that a used rubber recycling plant will begin operations in Yabucoa, which will have the potential to recycle all the rubber used on the island to be transformed into rubber floors and safety mats, among other products.