Feds: CUC still deficient

THE Commonwealth Utilities Corp. is experiencing substantial and costly drinking-water loss, leaks, inadequate metering and billing of its customers, and is not developing maintenance manuals, according to Bradley R. O’Brien, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice-Environmental & Natural Resources Division Environmental Enforcement Section.

In a status report filed in federal court, O’Brien said CUC obtained U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval for a number of drinking-water and wastewater projects, but remains deficient in a number of areas critical to the utility.

O’Brien said apart from addressing some vacancies and the submission of a draft master plan in June 2015, CUC submitted only one stipulated order 1 or SO1 requirement for EPA approval since Nov. 2014.

SO1 focuses on drinking-water and wastewater issues such as requiring CUC to provide safe drinking water to residents on a 24-hour basis; maintaining adequate chlorine supplies; safely treating and discharging wastewater; and developing long-term capital improvement and financial plans.

O’Brien said CUC must commit to recommendations identified in the master plan.

Vacancies in key management positions over the year impacted progress on many SO1 and SO2 requirements, although CUC eventually filled the top positions other than the chief engineer’s position, O’Brien said.

With new management in place, he added, it is important to re-establish timelines and specific plans to address the remaining SO1 and SO2 requirements.

SO2 focuses on oil issues such as requiring CUC to repair and replace oil storage and operation infrastructure; manage tank and pipeline facilities; and require spill and emergency-response equipment and protocols.

O’Brien said there has been progress, but much of each is due to the court’s supervision and the funding and technical support provided by the U.S. government.

For example, he said, since the orders were entered, CUC received $60 million in EPA federal grant funding for SO1 drinking-water and wastewater systems.

O’Brien said prior to the entry of the engineering and environmental management company or EEMC order, the U.S. Department of the Interior awarded approximately $10 million in federal grants for CUC’s SO2 projects.

He said the CNMI, pursuant to the EEMC order and through DOI grants and CNMI monetary payments, will be contributing an additional $22.8 million toward CUC’s SO2 projects, for a combined total of $92.8 million from the federal government and CNMI.

Although progress has been made to cure CUC’s long-standing operational deficiencies and failure to comply with the orders, there is still much to be accomplished, O’Brien said.

The U.S., he added, will continue to work with the parties to seek to accomplish the full purpose of the orders — that CUC becomes an environmentally safe, responsible, and financially independent entity.

On Nov. 19, 2008, the U.S., on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, brought an action against CUC and the CNMI for violations of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. On March 11, 2009, the federal court entered SO1 and SO2.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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