EPA Fines Authority for the Port of the Americas for Contractor Dredging Violations
Demonstrating its strong commitment to protect our oceans and marine life, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it has reached a settlement with the Authority for the Port of the Americas requiring it to pay a penalty of $308,000 for improper disposal of dredged material. On a number of occasions in the spring and summer of 2006, Weeks Marine, Inc., a Port of the Americas contractor, dumped material dredged to create the port in areas other than those designated for ocean disposal by EPA in its federal permit. Sites permitted to receive sediment dredged from harbors and navigational channels are carefully screened before they are designated. The region around the port area in Ponce, Puerto Rico includes coral reefs and other ecologically sensitive areas, which must be avoided.
“These dredged sediment should have been put in the designated area, which was chosen because placing material there has minimal impacts on the ocean environment,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “Poor communication and oversight on the contractor’s part meant that on numerous occasions the material didn’t make it to the designated spot. To protect our waters, fish habitats and other marine life, EPA requires dredging contractors to take proper precautions and follow strict placement guidelines or face the consequences.”
Maintaining the navigational depths of ports and harbors is crucial to regional economic well-being, especially in Puerto Rico, where the majority of products and materials are brought to the island by ship.
The Authority for the Port of the Americas was issued a permit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizing the dredging of approximately 5.5 million cubic yards of sediment to improve channels, basins and berths in the Port of Ponce located in Ponce, Puerto Rico. This sediment was to be placed into a disposal site known as the Ponce Harbor disposal site, an approximately one square nautical mile area located in deep water (329 to 457 meters) about 4.5 nautical miles south of the entrance to Ponce Harbor.
In March 2006, 4,000 cubic yards of dredged material was mistakenly discharged from a Weeks’ barge while it was being serviced outside the Ponce Harbor disposal site. Records indicate that this discharge resulted from a lack of communication and coordination between the two captains and the watch engineer.
In April 2006, a 3,500 cubic yard barge load of dredged material was released outside the Ponce Harbor disposal site. Records indicate that the barge doors delayed in opening and a lack of attention on the part of the captain allowed the load to be discharged after the barge had moved out of the designated site.
In July 2006, the captain prematurely turned off the system used to monitor materials being discharged from the vessel and dropped 4,000 cubic yards of dredged material when the vessel was no longer in the Ponce Harbor disposal site.
Finally, EPA determined that, on various occasions, dredged material was lost from barges while underway and en route to the Ponce Harbor site. These incidents highlight the critical need to ensure that dredging, transportation, and disposal of sediments are carefully performed. It is unlawful to discharge dredged material into the ocean outside designated areas. These spills could have been avoided by paying closer attention to adjusting loading levels to match sea conditions, by properly maintaining the equipment used for transporting dredged material and by following site management and monitoring plans designed to avoid impacts to ecologically sensitive areas.
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