The battle against VX wastewater shipments to Port Arthur has reached the governor. After months of fighting to stop shipments of the former nerve gas agent from Newport, Ind., to Port Arthur for incineration, environmental health and justice groups held a press conference Thursday at the capital to ask Gov. Perry and state representatives for help in challenging the Army with their environmental outcry. Rep. Lon Burnam of District 90 in Tarrant County was one of the legislators at the press conference and said he cannot believe local Southeast Texas officials are not aggressively working to stop the shipments. “I’m absolutely opposed to the shipments. It’s dangerous and I can’t believe local officials are not raising cain about it,” Burman said in a telephone interview Thursday. The state representative said he has been fighting hazardous waste for years and the VX battle is the worst example he has seen of endangering the environment and citizens. “This situation is exactly the kind that caused President Clinton to sign the Executive Order on Environmental Justice,” Juan Parras, Houston environmental justice activist and community organizer for Citizens League for Environmental Action Now, said. “We need our federal legislators to stand up in support of disenfranchised communities, even when some of their colleagues won’t.” A federal judge in Indiana recently refused to halt the shipments after a lawsuit was filed by several community groups. Port Arthur’s Community In-power and Development Association, founded by activist Hilton Kelley, was one of the groups that participated in the lawsuit. Kelley is determined to make sure Port Arthur does not become a toxic dumping ground. Chemical Weapons Working Group Director Craig Williams noted that the Army is required to provide “maximum protection” to communities and workers throughout the chemical weapons disposal program, but he said this case is a clear example of the Army “shirking that responsibility.” “We are looking to Representative (Sheila) Jackson-Lee and other EJ (environmental justice) leaders to help bring about a safe, secure solution to this problem, because the Army is simply unwilling to consider safer treatment of the hydrolysate,” Williams said. Perry’s office did not immediately comment on the issue. The first shipment of hydrolysate arrived at Veolia on April 16 as part of a $49 million contract with the U.S. Army to destroy the VX wastewater at its Port Arthur facility — one of only three facilities in the nation with the necessary equipment to do so. Under the contract, Veolia incinerates VX hydrolysate, caustic waste water created when VX is destroyed by mixing it with sodium hydroxide and water. The waste water is shipped in 4,000-gallon containers across eight states and nearly 1,000 miles to Port Arthur. New Jersey and Ohio fought off plans to incinerate the waste there. The company has tried to calm fears by saying that it is only bringing in waste water, not a deadly nerve agent, and that is has the proper permits, training and facilities to handle it. So far, about 350,000 gallons of the 2 million gallons contracted to be destroyed have been transported. “We’re not posing any threat to the environment or the citizens around the plant,” said Daniel Duncan, Veolia’s environmental health and safety manager. “Everything is going fine.” The Associated Press contributed to this article.
One of the six men indicted on August 20 as part of the alleged Montauk drug distribution ring arrests made earlier this month is facing 20 felony charges, including one of operating as a major drug trafficker, with a personal profit of $75,000 or more.Geraldo Jose Vargas-Munoz, who was working in the kitchen of Swallow East as a dishwasher for nominal pay, is facing possible life in prison if convicted of even one of the most serious charges, which are classified as A felonies. Those charges include three counts of selling a half-ounce or more of cocaine in one sale, along with an even more serious charge of selling two ounces or more of cocaine, apparently all to undercover agents, along with a charge of criminal possession of eight ounces or more of cocaine, and the charge of directing a major drug ring. Besides those six charges, there are 14 more felony charges hanging over his head.District Attorney Tim Sini said in a press conference August 16 that many of the sales the group made were out of the back doors of the various Montauk restaurants where they worked. According to the District Attorney, they all were working for low wages as a front for their criminal activity. Israel Padilla-Rojas, who, according to police, was in possession of a small amount of narcotics at one of five locations police raided that morning, told the court during his arraignment that he works as a dishwasher at the Gig Shack. He said that he works 80 hours a week, and makes $600.Five other indictments were handed down by the grand jury, according to court records. William Crespo-Duran is facing one A felony, possession of four ounces or more of cocaine, along with two other felonies, conspiracy to sell drugs and possession. Elvin Silva-Ruiz has also been charged with an A felony, for allegedly selling a half ounce or more to an undercover agent. He is facing five additional drug related felony charges, as well.Silva-Ruiz was arrested August 14 at JFK Airport, where he was attempting to board a plane. After his arrest, he was taken to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital for an undisclosed medical condition. Southampton Justice Barbara Wilson performed his initial bedside arraignment under the watchful eye of a Suffolk County deputy sheriff. Silva-Ruiz has since been released from the hospital, and is in county jail in Riverside.Gilberto Quintana-Crespo, Eric Mendez, and Antonio Ramirez-Gonzalez were all charged by the grand jury with one felony count each of conspiring to distribute cocaine. Except for Mendez, who posted $10,000 bail before the indictment was handed down, the group is being held without bail. The men were arrested as part of an operation that combined the forces of the East Hampton Town police, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Postal Inspectors, and the District Attorney’s East End Drug Task Force. They are all scheduled to be arraigned by New York State Justice Timothy Mazzei tomorrow. All are natives of Puerto Rico who have been coming to Montauk for the summer season for several years. [email protected] Share Geraldo Jose Vargas-Munoz, the alleged ringleader of a Montauk cocaine dealing group, is facing multiple life in prison sentences. Independent/Justin Meinken