ATLANTIC FLEET WEAPONS TRAINING AREA
On this page:
- What Is Being Done to Clean Up the Site?
- What Is the Current Site Status?
- EPA’s Involvement at the Site
- Operable Units (opens new page)
- Cleanup Progress (opens new page)
The former Vieques Naval installation is a 23,000-acre facility located on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. From the mid-1940s until 2003, significant amounts of munitions items were fired during military training. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico considered Vieques its highest priority facility for cleanup, and in 2005 large portions of Vieques and the surrounding waters were placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). The site has unique challenges such as unexploded ordnance across thousands of acres of land and sea floor, abundant ecologically and culturally sensitive resources, and the sometimes differing viewpoints and objectives of numerous stakeholders, including the local community, educational and scientific organizations, and various advocacy groups.
What Is Being Done to Clean Up the Site?
Representatives from Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, the EPA, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Interior, and United States Fish and Wildlife Service work collaboratively to develop and implement measures that are protective of human health and the environment for the areas of concern on Vieques. The Navy is conducting a time critical removal action of munitions and explosives of concern found on the surface at the former Live Impact Area, a Non-Time Critical Removal Action of Munitions and Explosives of Concern on the surface at the Surface Impact Area, and a Non-Time Critical Removal Action of subsurface Munitions and Explosives of Concern at selected roads and beaches within the former Vieques Naval Training Range. The Navy is also conducting a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study at the only munitions response site in the former Naval Ammunition Support Detachment at west Vieques.
In 2008, a Record of Decision (ROD) was issued for one operable unit, Area of Concern H. A ROD which addressed Areas of Concern J, R and Solid Waste Management Unit -7 (Naval Ammunition Support Detachment) was signed on September 21, 2011. A RODs was issued for Solid Waste Management Unit-1 (Vieques Naval Training Range) on September 29, 2011, and a ROD was issued on November 2015 for Unexploded Ordnance -1, the Eastern Conservation Area.
As noted above activities to investigate and remove munitions continue. The Navy continues to conduct surface clearance within the former Vieques Naval Training Range. In addition, a non-time critical removal action was conducted to open the historic lighthouse at Puerto Ferro to the public. This interim action allowed for accelerated public access to the area around the historic lighthouse and adjacent beach, which was opened in March 2015.
Clearance of 75 acres in the former Live Impact Area to address submunitions started in 2016. This work targets those areas where there is a high density (1,000 / acre) of submunitions hidden by vegetation and includes controlled burning for vegetation removal which is needed to allow safe munitions clearance. Alternatives to burning were explored but these are unsafe or ineffective. The Navy conducted test burns in January 2014 and October 2016. These tests indicated that the submunitions were cleared successfully and safely. Air monitoring showed no effect in residential areas and this data presented to the Restoration Advisory Board at a meeting held on November 16, 2016. The path forward for this area is to continue to burn small areas (1 to 2 acres) and remove submunitions. The Navy are regularly reporting on these activities to EQB, EPA, FWS, and DNER. Community updates are also provided.
Underwater sites at Vieques, UXO 16
The Navy has identified underwater areas that are known or suspected to have been impacted by Munitions and Explosives of Concern (MEC ) adjacent to the ranges and operational areas on East and West Vieques with an estimated size of approximately 11,500 acres. UXO 16 includes former ship anchoring points where munitions may have been loaded, offloaded or transferred (including three anchorage areas and Mosquito Pier), areas where munitions may have been inadvertently fired into the water from naval gunfire training or Air-to-Ground bombing (former VNTR), and areas where the explosive safety arc from artillery ranges and adjacent onshore OB/OD activities may have extended into the water (former NASD and VNTR).
Wide Area Assessment
In 2013, available bathymetry data within UXO 16 were compiled in order to develop a plan for conducting a side-scan sonar survey. The side-scan sonar survey helped plan the Wide Area Assessment (WAA) of underwater munitions, including avoiding underwater obstacles during the assessment. The side-scan sonar survey began in November 2013 and was completed in January 2014. A WAA to provide a preliminary evaluation of Elevated Anomaly Density Area (EADAs), in accordance with a WAA Work Plan, began in March 2016 and is ongoing, approximately 80% completion to date. A historical records evaluation of the water portion of the Inner Range (an area that includes the former VNTR and extends four nautical miles off the coast) is to be conducted concurrently with the WAA.
Offshore of SWMU 4
The explosives safety arc of the OB/OD operations at SWMU 4 extends approximately 2,000 feet offshore to the west of the former OB/OD area; the offshore area is part of UXO 16. Because portions of SWMU 4 are planned for recreational use, the Navy accelerated evaluation of the adjacent underwater area. A remedial investigation was completed in 2016 and an RI Report is currently being prepared.
Offshore of Cayo la Chiva
Cayo la Chiva (UXO 18) is a 12-acre island located south of the EMA. A simulated machine gun nest was located on Cayo la Chiva during Operation Portrex conducted in 1950. No additional training activities are documented to have occurred in the UXO 18 area; however, fired 5-inch rockets were identified both on and offshore of Cayo la Chiva, which indicates the area may have been used for additional training, albeit potentially in a single event. In 2010, the Navy conducted a visual underwater survey within approximately 100 feet offshore of Cayo la Chiva and covered the remainder of Bahía de la Chiva. Nine potential munitions were identified just west and south of the island. A non-time critical removal action for these items was finalized and provided for public comment in November 2014and a work plan was completed in October 2016. Fieldwork is anticipated to occur in 2017.
Other Offshore Areas
Puerto Ferro, UXO 15 - A non-time critical removal action is planned to address this underwater area which contains several encrusted munitions and/or munitions debris. Field Work is planned for 2018.
UXO-16 A non-time critical removal action is planned for nearshore (i.e., within approximately 100 meters of the shoreline) munitions around the perimeter of the former VNTR and Mosquito Pier. It is anticipated the t Final Engineering Evaluation/Cost Analysis will be release for public review by May 2017.
To date, the Navy has spent approximately $215 million on its activities on Vieques of which approximately $41 million have contributed directly to the local economy.
What Is the Current Site Status?
The U.S. Navy has divided work at the site between two programs: The Munitions Response Program and the Environmental Restoration Program. All munitions-related work is carried out under the Munitions Response Program. All typical chemical contamination investigations are covered by the Environmental Restoration Program. Within the Munitions Response Program, the site has been divided into multiple Munitions Response Sites in east and west Vieques.
Under its Environmental Restoration Program, the Navy is conducting multiple environmental investigations to determine the
nature and extent of contamination at identified Areas of Concern and Solid Waste Management Units. In NASD, six of these have Records of Decision (RODs) selecting final cleanup plans and eleven were determined not to have been impacted from past practices. There is one Solid Waste Management Unit (SWMU) without a final determination (SWMU 6) and one Munitions Response site within NASD, SWMU4, which is currently at the feasibility study stage.
Within the former Vieques Naval Training Range, multiple sites have been investigated or are currently under investigation to assess potential past chemical releases. SWMU 20 is currently at the FS stage. The Navy has also completed an expanded range assessment of the former Vieques Naval Training Range and the Eastern Conservation Area (UXO 1) and is also conducting removal actions to address munitions and explosives of concern on the surface of the former Live Impact Area; removal of munitions and explosives of concern on the surface at the Surface Impact Area; and removal of subsurface munitions and explosives of concern from selected roads and beaches within the former Vieques Naval Training Range. A Record of Decision for the former Camp Garcia Landfill (SWMU 1) was issued in September 2011 and a Record of Decision for the Eastern Conservation Area (UXO1) was issued in November 2015.
EPA’s Involvement at the Site
The Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area - Vieques, in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, includes certain areas of the island of Vieques, and nearby waters, that have become contaminated primarily by United States Department of Defense training activities. Vieques is located approximately seven miles southeast of Puerto Rico’s main island and consists of approximately 33,000 acres. From the 1940s until 2003, the US Navy administered lands on both the western and eastern ends of the island. After World War II, portions of the island were used by the U.S. Navy, primarily to conduct activities related to military training.
On the eastern side the former Vieques Naval Training Range was used primarily for ground warfare and amphibious training, naval gunfire support training and air to ground training. The Vieques Naval Training Range covered approximately 14,573 acres and includes the former Eastern Maneuver Area (including Camp Garcia), the former Surface Impact Area, the former Live Impact Area, and the Eastern Conservation Area.
The former Naval Ammunition Support Detachment (NASD), which covered 8,200 acres on western Vieques, was used mainly for ammunition loading and storage, and vehicle and facility maintenance, though some training occurred there as well.
In April 2001, the former NASD on west Vieques was transferred from the Navy to the Municipality of Vieques (4,200 acres), the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust (800 acres), and the Department of Interior (3,100 acres). In May 2003, the Department of Interior received an additional 14,600 acres comprising the former Vieques Naval Training Range on east Vieques. As required by law, the Department of Interior manages their property as a National Wildlife Refuge. Due to explosive safety concerns, the law further designates 900 acres of the former Live Impact Area as a Wilderness Area with no public access allowed. The waters surrounding these areas are largely uncharacterized; identified areas of concern include waters impacted by target practice and associated safety fans on eastern Vieques, ship anchoring areas north of Vieques, and waters near western Vieques, including Mosquito Pier and a Former Open Burn/Open Detonation Area known as SWMU 4.
Vieques is home to approximately 8,825 residents (Census, 2016). In addition, Vieques has an active and growing tourism industry. Both visitors and residents access beaches, fisheries, and recreational waters that may be impacted by past military training. Upon cessation of Navy activities, large portions of the impacted areas were set aside as a national wildlife refuge, which is home to at least 25 endangered species (federal and/or Puerto Rico designation) and other sensitive environments.
In June 2003, former Governor Sila Calderon used the Commonwealth's one-time statutory authority “silver bullet” to propose areas of the islands of Vieques and Culebra, defined by the Commonwealth as the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area, for inclusion on the National Priorities List (NPL). EPA proposed listing the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area on the NPL in August 2004. On February
7, 2005, EPA announced the final listing of the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area - Vieques on the NPL, excluding Culebra.
During cleanup, a site can be divided into a number of distinct areas depending on its complexity. These areas, called operable units (OUs), may address geographic areas, specific problems, or areas where a specific action is required. Examples of typical operable units include construction of a groundwater pump and treatment system or construction of a cap over a landfill.