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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

DNER issues RFP seeking public or private partner to co-manage & develop Camuy Caves

Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega

By The Star Staff

The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) has published a request for proposals (RFP) to revitalize and co-manage the Parque las Cavernas del Río Camuy (Camuy River Caves Park).

While the DNER described the RFP as a co-management arrangement, it is a request for a private partner in the form of a public-private partnership with the DNER instead of with the Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3A).

“This request for proposals is not simply about the co-management of the park, but about its transformation into an educational and environmental conservation center,” DNER Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega said in a written statement. “We want to maximize its potential for future generations and foster sustainable economic development in nearby communities. It is imperative to mention that the park will continue to be the inheritance of the people of Puerto Rico.”

Rodríguez Vega noted that Act 23 of June 20, 1972 (DNER Charter Law), allows the agency to contract with municipalities, nongovernmental organizations, and public and private entities for the administration, concession, operation, subcontracting, and delegation of the parks of Puerto Rico in a manner commensurate with the public interest. Section 5(w) of the DNER’s statute and regulations allows the issuance of proposal requests.

The selected proponent will be responsible for day-to-day operations, from park admission to food and merchandise sales. They must provide mandatory services such as group tours, visitor maps, educational programs, and other authorized services such as interpretive tours and private activities.

Proposals should detail costs, required personnel and specific strategies for offering services. In addition, they must include conservation strategies and compliance with all applicable laws. The contract will run for five years, with the possibility of a 10-year extension. The selected proponent is expected to collaborate on improvement projects financed with local, federal or private funds.

The deadline for submitting proposals is Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. The selection of the proponent is scheduled for Nov. 17.

Given the limited information on the project, the Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority (P3A) in June rejected forming a conventional public-private partnership to rehabilitate and run the Camuy River Cave Park. The agency informed the DNER that it was not recommending a public-private partnership arrangement to turn the Camuy River Caverns into a major tourism attraction.

The caverns are part of an extensive network of limestone caves and underground waterways carved out by the Camuy River, the third-largest underground river in the world. The caves were discovered in 1958.

The conclusion of the P3A was made following a feasibility study.

“Although the findings of this study suggest that an alternative P3 model would improve the operation, maintenance, and overall performance of the Cave Park, the Authority concludes that given the limited information available and the size of this Project, it should not be sought under a conventional P3 arrangement,” the agency said in June.

However, the P3A told the DNER to procure a five to 10-year agreement with a private third party to maintain and operate the Cave Park, although the procurement would not be done under the public-private partnership law.

“A private operator will bring efficiency in the operations and maintenance of the Cave Park, as well as offer insight and know-how as to the infrastructure enhancements needed,” the P3A said.

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