Authorized cost of dredging Martín Peña Channel on track for 55% increase

By John McPhaul

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives determined Thursday to amend the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2020 with an increase in the authorized costs of carrying out the dredging of the Martín Peña Channel (Caño Martín Peña) in San Juan from $150 million to $232.4 million.

The WRDA is the federal law that authorizes environmental, structural, navigation, flood protection, and hydrology projects, among others, that impact bodies of water in U.S. jurisdiction.

In 2007, through Section 5127 of the 2007 WRDA, the U.S. Congress authorized up to a maximum of $150 million to carry out the dredging of the Caño Martín Pena as a project of environmental restoration and protection against flood damage. With the amendment accepted Thursday by the House, the dredging costs authorized in 2007 are updated to match those of the Feasibility Study approved by the Corps of Engineers in 2016.

“We welcome the inclusion of this amendment in the United States House of Representatives version of the WRDA 2020, but we want to make it clear that this is not an allocation of funds. It is an amendment that updates project costs and guides Congress and relevant federal agencies to eventually identify and allocate funds for dredging,” said Mario Núñez Mercado, executive director of the Caño Martín Peña ENLACE Project Corp. “If thae measure is approved with the new amendment, the amount required for the execution of the Caño dredging will be updated in accordance with the feasibility study of the project.”

The measure is pending approval by the U.S. House of Representatives. Then it will go to conference committee with the Senate, since the version in upper chamber does not contain the amendment to the costs.

“The dredging of the Caño is critical to minimize the risks from flooding of the communities surrounding this body of water and fundamental infrastructure of the country, such as Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, and to restore the ecosystem of the San Juan Bay estuary for the health and safety of the residents who live in these eight communities,” said Lucy M. Cruz Rivera, president of the Group of Eight (G-8) communities situated near Caño Martín Peña.

“We must continue fighting so that these funds are officially assigned to the project. For this, we are going to continue coordinating efforts with Caño’s allies in the Puerto Rico government and the United States Congress,” she said.

For years the Caño Martín Peña has served as a landfill for successive generations of squatters who have filled the channel with garbage, reducing its width to just a few feet in some stretches.

Several public and private housing projects have been completed to relocate residents away from the banks of the fetid channel.

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