The former Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area in Vieques, Puerto Rico, served as the Navy’s training range for ensuring combat readiness of US Atlantic Fleet Forces and for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations. From the mid-1940s until 2003, more than 300,000 munitions were fired during military training operations. Because the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico considered Vieques the highest priority facility for cleanup, large portions of Vieques and the surrounding waters were placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in 2005.
Today, the former installation has been transferred to federal and local agencies, mostly for conservation as part of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge houses a variety of natural resources, including sensitive habitats such as mangroves, subtropical dry forests, lagoons, and coral reefs, and endangered species such as sea turtles, manatees, and brown pelicans. Portions of the former installation are open to the public for recreation and for access to culturally significant areas.
Vieques is located approximately 7 miles southeast of Puerto Rico’s main island and encompasses 33,000 acres, although most of the island’s approximately 9,000 residents live in or around two main towns—Isabel Segunda on the north shore and Esperanza on the south shore (Figure 1).
From the 1940s until 2003, the U.S. Navy administered lands on both the western and eastern ends of Vieques. The former Vieques Naval Training Range (VNTR) was located on approximately 14,573 acres of the island’s eastern side and consisted of four separate areas: the Eastern Maneuver Area (EMA), the Surface Impact Area (SIA), the Live Impact Area (LIA), and the Eastern Conservation Area (ECA). It was used primarily for ground warfare and amphibious training, naval gunfire support training, and air-to-ground training. The former Naval Ammunition Support Detachment (NASD) covered about 8,200 acres on the west side of the island, which included support facilities for training and munitions storage.
In January 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Navy entered into an Administrative Order on Consent under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to investigate and address potential environmental contamination on east Vieques. Under the order, the Navy began a RCRA Facility Investigation (RFI) of nine solid waste management units (SWMUs 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 12) and three areas of concern (AOCs A, F, and G) to determine whether or not they contained potentially harmful releases of hazardous materials (see Figures 2 and 3).
Live-fire training on Vieques ceased in 2001, although periodic training with concrete-filled bombs and blank bullets continued until 2003. On April 30, 2001, 4,250 acres of the former NASD was transferred to the Municipality of Vieques (MOV), 3,050 acres to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to manage as part of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, and 800 acres to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust (PRCT, now known as "Para La Naturaleza"), as required by Public Laws 106-398 and 107-107 (Figure 4).
In 2003, all Navy training on Vieques ceased, and the Navy transferred all 14,573 acres of the former VNTR to the DOI in accordance with Public Law 107-107, to be administered as part of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge; the law required the former LIA to be managed as a wilderness area with no public access.
Vieques Environmental Restoration Program
The Vieques Environmental Restoration Program faces challenges such as unexploded ordnance (and associated contaminants) across thousands of acres of land and sea floor, and abundant ecologically and culturally sensitive resources. To meet these challenges, the Vieques Environmental Restoration Program Team comprises representatives from the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Atlantic, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (PREQB) and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PRDNER), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Department of Interior (DOI), and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The 2007 Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA) establishes the framework for the stakeholder agencies to collaboratively implement the Environmental Restoration Program under CERCLA to achieve the following objectives:
- Implement prompt actions to protect human health, safety, and the environment
- Manage and prioritize investigations and remedial actions, based on risk to human health and the environment, anticipated land use, and available funding
- Develop safe, cost-effective, and innovative cleanup approaches and technologies
- Execute a community involvement program to promote public safety and stakeholder participation in the cleanup process
- Maximize partnerships with federal, Commonwealth, and local authorities to accelerate achieving land use goals through interim actions and final decisions
The Vieques Environmental Restoration Program is a winner of the 2016 and 2018 Chief of Naval Operations, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of Defense Environmental Award for Environmental Restoration, Individual/Team. The award recognizes the team for efforts to protect human health and the environment by cleaning up Department of Defense sites in a timely, cost-efficient, and responsive manner.
Additional information about the Vieques Environmental Restoration Program is contained in the current Site Management Plan (SMP) and previous SMPs for sites where work has been completed. The SMP is updated yearly and is available in its entirety in the Administrative Record with the most current SMP available at this link.
A brief description of the former Naval Ammunition Support Detachment (West Vieques) and the former Vieques Naval Training Range (East Vieques) sites can be found within the West Vieques and East Vieques tabs on the left column of this page along with the current Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) status of each site.