Marbo Cave is a popular spot for local residents and tourists alike and to see the platform buried in mud, the steps ruined, and the usually crystal-clear water filled with dirt and debris was shocking.
We’re glad the Guam Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps now to hold the contractor for the nearby solar farm project responsible. Hopefully, their efforts with U.S. EPA will result in more than the puny $125,000 fine that Guam law restricts the local agency to assess. Not only did the runoff send mud into the caves, it also may have spilled into the nearby ocean, smothering precious coral along one of the most beautiful coastlines of Guam.
“In failing to execute this project according to locally and federally approved plans, this contractor committed an act of defiance toward our island’s pristine beauty, our cultural resources and our environmental regulations,” said Guam EPA Administrator Walter S. Leon Guerrero. “The sheer neglect and willful disregard for responsible development is appalling, and the public can rest assured that the full weight of our environmental oversight will be leveraged upon the responsible party.”
It’s unclear, however, why the the required mitigation work that would've prevented this erosion wasn't done by the solar farm contractor. Guam and U.S. EPA, as well as the Department of Public Works are looking into the issue - after the damage has been done.
Based on information released so far, ponding basins and other protections should have already been in place at the site. And yet, construction started, and continued even after a notice of violation. Meanwhile, Guam is entering rainy season - heavy showers will likely lead to more of this industrial runoff into neighboring properties, public recreational areas and eventually to the reef and ocean life offshore.
Our residents deserve to know why these agencies weren’t conducting routine inspections or making sure violations were addressed in a timely manner - if they had been, they would have been aware that the approved plans, a key factor for this project to even begin, weren’t followed.
The issue is particularly concerning considering construction was supposed to start in January 2018 but was delayed due to a lawsuit.
The Guam Land Use Commission, the Department of Land Management and KEPCO-LG CNS were identified as respondents to the petition filed by former Sen. Marcel Camacho who was concerned about the impact to his property, which is adjacent to the 276 acres in Mangilao. The Superior Court of Guam dismissed the lawsuit, according to The Guam Daily Post files.
The project team designed erosion and sediment control mechanisms for the site, files state. The team also had to address concerns raised by the U.S. EPA after the discovery of an endangered species on the project site – the fragile tree snail (Samoana fragilis), files state.
It’s unknown whether the recent erosion impacted that habitat.
Any development over an acre requires U.S. EPA approval for general construction permit for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, representatives had stated in 2019.
There isn't much use for leaders crying over this spilled milk. Our island's environment and cultural sites - and indeed her people - are much better served when our public servants do a better job preventing pollution in the first place.
Reacting isn't protecting, certainly not for Marbo Cave.