Portuguese American Journal

Lajes: Decontamination of Terceira island soils must be a top priority – Azores

The President of the Government of the Azores, Vasco Cordeiro,  is concerned that the decontamination of soils on Terceira island, resulting from the US  presence in Lajes Air Base, is not being addressed as a “top priority” by the Portugal/USA Permanent Bilateral Commission.

In a prepared statement, President Cordeiro stated that, “[T]he position taken by the Azorean Government at the meetings of the Bilateral Commission defends that the United States has the responsibility to address the environmental liabilities resulting from its military presence on the island of Terceira.”

He stressed that, “clearing the environmental liabilities left by US military forces is not the responsibility of the Regional Government nor of the Azoreans” and that the responsibility for the decontamination “should be assumed by US authorities,” following the US decision to reduce its presence at the Lajes Air Base.

The Government of the Azores is in the process of negotiating with United States the terms relating to the 2012 Pentagon’s decision to downsize the US military presence in the Lajes Air Base, the island’s second largest employer. The move, which would save the Pentagon an estimated $35 million annually, will significantly impact the local economy.

President Cordeiro defends the need for a more effective and expeditious action regarding the environmental cross-contamination of  the Lajes Air Base area, resulting from the accumulation of chemical hazardous waste from the US military use of the grounds. The primary mission for the Lajes Air Base is to serve as a refueling stop in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Azores is requesting the US to pay €167 million a year, for 15 years, as compensation for the economic revitalization of Terceira island, including the “contamination cleanup” needed after 70 years of military operations.

The Permanent Bilateral Commission is a body established by the Agreement on Cooperation and Defence between Portugal and the USA in 1995, with the goal of promoting mutual cooperation between both countries.

For the past 70 years, Lajes Air Base has been one of seven main operating military bases under US Air Forces in Europe providing refueling and other support to US military, NATO aircraft and crew members transiting over the Atlantic.

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The Azores (population 250,000) is a region of Portugal composed of nine islands. The archipelago discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century, became an Autonomous Region of Portugal in 1976. The government of the Autonomous Region of the Azores includes the Legislative Assembly, composed of 57 elected deputies, elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term; the Regional Government and Presidency, with parliamentary legitimacy, composed of a President, a Vice-President and seven Regional Secretaries responsible for the Regional Government executive operations. The Autonomous Region of the Azores is represented in the Council of Ministers of the Central Government by a representative appointed by the President of Portugal. According to the latest US census over 1.3 million individuals of Portuguese descent live in the United States, the majority with roots in the Azores. It is estimated that over 20,000 US citizens live in Portugal.