Jacksonville, Fla.(May 14, 2012) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Jacksonville District is making steady progress in its investigation of what remains from past Department of Defense activities on the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico. The island was used by the U.S. Navy for military maneuvers and live-fire training between1903 and 1975.
Culebra's training ranges were used for naval bombardment, aerial bombing, rifle, mortar and machine gun practice, involving hundreds of thousands of rounds of munitions. Over the years, some of the munitions and debris may have deteriorated or have become covered by vegetation. Others can still be found on the surface, particularly in the area of the Flamenco (Northwest) Peninsula. Many munitions that the Navy used are now most likely below the ground surface.
USACE divided the land and water around Culebra into 13 distinct Munitions Response Sites (MRS) and is conducting all munitions response efforts under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program for Formerly Used Defense Sites.
“Significant and steady progress is being made,” said Tom Freeman, project manager. “Continued federal funding has allowed us to proceed without interruption, and we are working in coordination with the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB) and a host of federal and local agencies. We are proud of the accomplishments to date that will help enhance the safety and quality of life of the community.”
These accomplishments include:
· USACE conducted Site Inspections at 13 MRS areas. As a result, USACE recommended twelve Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Studies (RI/FS) – ten for land MRS areas and two for underwater MRS areas. The purpose of a RI/FS is to identify the nature and extent of any munitions or contamination present, specifying the types and estimating the amount of munitions and other contaminants found on each site, if any. USACE recommended that no Department of Defense action was needed on the thirteenth MRS.
· USACE removed any surface munitions (unexploded ordnance, or UXO) that it encountered during its response actions from the Flamenco Beach campground and in the Cerro Balcon area and on Cayo Lobo.
· USACE has completed its field work on all land areas and expects to release its RI/FS reports this summer. In these reports, USACE will provide the basis for any Proposed Plans, describing recommended alternatives for addressing each site. The reports and plans will be shared with the community for review and comment.
· In addition to the RI/FS reports for the Flamenco Bay and Luis Pena Channel areas, USACE will also investigate the water around other areas of Culebra, Culebrita, and the smaller surrounding cayos in the same manner. The reports are expected to be completed in 2014.
· USACE recently completed a Congressionally-mandated study of the former bombardment area on Culebra’s Northwest Peninsula, near Flamenco Beach. This 408-acre parcel was transferred to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and was excluded by law from federal environmental response actions. The Army submitted a draft study report to the Office of the Secretary of Defense in January 2012.
· USACE expects to release by this summer its Site Inspection report on the former Navy/Marine Corps camp area, a 40,000-square-foot area that was contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons and several metals.
· USACE is currently developing, in collaboration with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and EQB standard operating procedures to help conserve and protect endangered species and their habitat in the water areas of the Culebra response actions.
· A community-based Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), co-chaired by USACE and a representative elected by the community, was reestablished in late 2011. Meetings are open to the public. The RAB is just one of many ways that the community is kept informed of the progress on the cleanup.
USACE prioritizes and implements response actions according to the level of risk to human health and safety; those sites determined to pose the highest risk are addressed before sites posing less risk. In the meantime, as military munitions are known to be on the island and in the water, members of the public and visitors to Culebra are reminded to follow the 3Rs of explosives safety: Recognize that munitions are dangerous; Retreat, without touching or moving the object; and Report the location of the finding immediately by calling local law enforcement.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and its partners are committed to the environmental restoration of Culebra and its surrounding waters,” said Freeman. “We are working hard to achieve that goal, and to keeping the community informed every step of the way.”