Environmental group wants judge to refrain from overseeing injunction against Luquillo hotel
By The Star Staff
Environmental groups and residents in Luquillo are battling two proposed area developments that they say may hurt the environment and, on Monday, one of the groups was on its way to ask a judge to refrain from intervening with a request to stop one of the projects: an area hotel.
The group Citizens for a Resilient Luquillo (CLR) filed an Injunction on March 30 to stop the construction of the Luquillo Hotel but on Monday CLR was on its way to ask Judge Juan Robles to refrain from overseeing the request due to a conflict of interest.
Robles has not acted on the request at all. Injunctions must be answered in a period no longer than 72 hours but nothing has been done in three weeks, Lemuel Torres, the group’s lawyer told the STAR.
Torres said Robles was the same judge that in December issued an injunction to stop CLR from doing protests against the proposed Luquillo Hotel, he said.
The environmental group is asking for a stop in all construction activities due to the critical damage to valuable natural resources in the area. The Injunction states that the construction has had a negative impact on the habitat of native species of animals and plants, as well as migratory birds. In addition, CLR affirms that the Permits Management Office (OGPE) has granted an illegal permit, to the detriment of the best interests of the citizens of Luquillo.
The petition notes that the permit was granted using the 2020 Joint Regulations, which have been declared null and void twice by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. Some 2.4 acres south of the project’s construction have been filled in, apparently without permission, impacting the vegetation and possible wetlands that were found there, noted Hector Quintero, a scientific advisor to the project.
No public hearings were held to listen to the opinion of the citizens when officials changed the zoning of the area from Common Rustic Land (SR-C) to Selective Tourist Development (DT-S).
While projects required several studies, only three studies were made for the Luquillo Hotel. These were an Environmental Assessment, an Ecological Study and a Preliminary Study.
“The Environmental Assessment (EA) is a brief summary of the other two studies. Those studies are very poor and incomplete. The EA does not contain all the information necessary to determine the impact on natural resources, especially indirect and cumulative impacts on natural systems. It also contradicts the studies on which it is based by indicating that there are no swamps in the area,” Quintero said.
The Ecological Study was carried out in 2016 and the field observations were made in three days. No nocturnal studies were made in which two species of boas in danger of extinction in the area could be identified. The site is also a habitat for the Coquí llanero, another species in danger of extinction. Another species that has been found is the Carrao, a bird that was believed to be extinct on the Island. This study indicates that there are only 27 species of plants and 17 of animals in the area, a very low number considering the complexity of the system.
For the Preliminary Study, field observations were made for one day in November 2015. The study is mainly a compilation of already published data such as soil type, historical use, and others. It consists of 16 pages, three are text and the other maps, figure, references and title, he said.
These three environmental studies are not ecologically valid because the environmental information is from 2015 and 2016. Hurricanes Irma and María caused a significant impact in the area, altering the habitat and the species found there.
A Wetland Determination study in which the amount of wetlands in the project area is established contains serious errors, the appropriate methods were not used and it does not present the necessary evidence. The study report contains simple mathematical errors in addition to the incorrect measurement of the water table in the ground in 13 of the 20 (65%) places where it was found.
A detailed study of the impact on the infrastructure that provides services to the communities of Luquillo, especially the supply of drinking water, has not been conducted. Currently in many of the higher parts of the city there are constant problems with the supply of drinking water. Further increasing the load on the system will continue to aggravate the situation.
The Permit Management Office did not comply with Law No. 141-2019, Transparency Law and Expedited Procedure for Access to Public Information. Access to information is difficult to access and expensive, the group said.
Quintero said he asked the U.S. Corps of Engineers to look into the project but has not received a response.
Angel Gonzalez, the spokesman for the group, said the Luquillo Hotel is not the only project that is being opposed. A group of citizens is also battling the proposed construction of a condominium near the area called Punta Bandera, which is near Luquillo Beach. The condominium is still in the permitting phase.