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Stop bombing Puerto Rica!

Text of the sign-on letter sent to Clinton re the Viques Directive. The letter was organised by the Military Toxics Project, (USA)

February 18, 2000

President William Jefferson Clinton
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our dismay with the January 31, 2000 Directive to the Secretary of Defense and the Director, Office and Management and Budget regarding use of the range facilities on Vieques, Puerto Rico. As we approach the sixth anniversary of your signing of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice (12898), we urge you to reconsider this directive.

We believe that, the people of Vieques have spoken loudly and clearly, "Not one more bomb, not one more minute". They want the Navy to stop military training exercises, clean up the contamination which litters the island and the surrounding surface water, and which may be buried in the soils of the island or may be polluting its groundwater, and return the land to the people of Vieques. In fact, the Vieques Special Commission appointed by Governor Rossello and which was broadly representative of Puerto Rican society, unanimously recommended that the Navy cease and desist all activity on Vieques.

The directive sets in place a referendum process, which does not permit the one option which all sectors of Vieques and Puerto Rico have urged: the immediate suspension of all military training on Vieques and the clean up of lands contaminated by military activities. At best, the directive would permit another three years of bombing with inadequate provisions for clean up. The Navy would resume training and continue at least until May 2003.

The directive calls for cleanup of the eastern side of Vieques consistent with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) except for the Live Impact Area, which will be swept for ordnance and fenced off. Under CERCLA, there is a careful process, which includes public participation, environmental studies, remedial investigations etc. to determine the best possible clean up option. The final remedy is then chosen in a Record of Decision (ROD). Any remediation of the impact area as well as the rest of the facility is subject to regulation by environmental regulatory authorities under existing environmental statutes. This directive supersedes the congressionally mandated process and therefore, we question its legality.

The impact area is written off with no attempt whatsoever to evaluate the prospect of clearing it of unexploded ordnance and with no discussion of the reliability of using fences alone as the sole long-term means of keeping people from being injured or killed by the ordnance. The directive invokes the "Weymouth" standard for removal of ordnance and other contaminants, in an apparent reference to the naval Air Station at South Weymouth, Massachusetts. This facility included an island known as "No Man's Land" which is uninhabited, and which even fishermen do not approach as a result of ordnance contamination. Moreover, the final level of clean up has not yet been determined and is a matter of conflict between the Navy and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This standard is unacceptable for Vieques, which relies heavily on fishing and tourism for its economic well being. We recommend the standard adopted for the impact area at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod Massachusetts as being appropriate.

The directive states, 'In the event the people of Vieques decide to allow the military to continue training, OMB will request Congressional funding for enhancement of infrastructure and housing on the Western portions of Vieques in the amount of 50 million dollars'. Such funds, which face un certainty at best in the Congress, are inadequate to address the environmental and health impacts of the Navy's activities on Vieques, and would not address the fundamental ways in which military training on Vieques has prevented economic development for the benefit of the island's people.

While the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has already initiated a health assessment, we have little confidence it will address the health problems of Vieques residents resulting from military activities. For small populations, such as that of Vieques, the kinds of epidemiological studies that ATSDR typically uses are inappropriate and inconclusive. Often, ATSDR studies have been used inappropriately as a tool to allay community concerns without disclosing the limitations of the studies. Instead of protecting the public, ATSDR studies have been used as public reassurances. We recommend that the Department of Defense bear the cost of a health study of Vieques residents undertaken by independent experts selected by residents of the local community.

Your directive calls for the implementation of management plans from a memorandum of understanding that is 17 years old. Given the Navy's record of deception and noncompliance with Commonwealth and federal laws in Vieques, why should the citizens of Vieques trust this directive? There are no mechanisms in place to enforce it, and the Navy's record in Vieques has destroyed public faith in its promises regarding the range.

Finally, it is unrealistic to expect that land on the western side of the island could be transferred by December 31, 2000. This allows just 9 months for clean up and restoration consistent with CERCLA standards.

We request that Attorney General Janet Reno rule on the legality of all parts of this directive, particularly the question of superseding CERCLA legislation by Presidential directive.

We urge Ms. Reno not to use the resources of the Justice Department to f orcibly remove the peaceful demonstrators from the impact area on Vieques. We believe that this is not legitimate use of power of our government and that it entails the possibility of extreme harm to both demonstrators and law enforcement officers.

We urge you, Mr. President to reverse this directive, give back the island to the citizens of Vieques and ensure an environmental clean up that guarantees public participation and is protective of human health, culture and the environment.


Tara Thornton
Military Toxic Project

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