Environmental groups: Planned construction threatens NEC

By John McPhaul

The Northeast Ecological Corridor Coalition (NEC) charged on Tuesday that the natural reserve, which was established by law in 2012, is at risk due to a construction proposal.

“We have learned that one of the proponents of the Dos Mares Resort project, the engineer Luis Alberto Rubí, has been meeting with government officials with the purpose of building a series of projects on land in the Corridor, and about which we have not been informed officially, despite the fact that our organization maintains an agreement to manage the lands of the natural reserve in support of and together with the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER),” NEC President Nilda García said in a written statement.

The organization submitted a formal request to DNER Secretary Rafael Machargo to provide a copy of documents and any information on all meetings held to date with the Dos Mares Resort designer, including details on the work he is proposing in the nature reserve.

The NEC also requested to be notified and that its participation be guaranteed in any future meeting related to this or any other proposed project in the area, as provided in the co-management agreement established between the agency and the NEC in 2015.

García called on all sectors of society to “be very aware of the outcome of this controversy, and with it, the protection of the NEC Nature Reserve, particularly due to the history of environmental violations committed by the proponents of the Dos Mares Resort.”

“It should be noted that as recently as last April, sand was being extracted, destroying vegetation, and even annihilating an endangered species in the Piñones area, on land identified as the property of Mr. Mark Greene, partner of engineer Luis Alberto Rubí under the company TJAC, the same company that was the proponent of the Dos Mares Resort,” she said. “This and other information reviewed by the press revealed that these activities did not have the required permits, [and they were] detained thanks to complaints made by members of the Amigos del Mar organizations and the Piñones-Loíza Coalition.”

The NEC Nature Reserve consists of some 3,000 acres of land along the coast of Luquillo and Fajardo, on the slopes of El Yunque. It is home to coral communities, seagrass meadows, swamps, and mangroves, including one of the few remnants of coastal forest with characteristics similar to those found in Puerto Rico prior to Spanish colonization. In the area the presence of more than 865 species of flora and fauna has been documented, including 53 identified as rare, vulnerable or in danger of extinction, some unique to Puerto Rico.

The beaches of the NEC are among the most important in the jurisdiction of the United States for the nesting of the leatherback, a species of sea turtle in danger of extinction.

The designation of the NEC Nature Reserve was approved with the unanimous endorsement of all members of the Legislature and the executive branch in 2013 (RNCEN Law, as amended, Law No. 8 of April 13, 2013), after the support of numerous governmental and civil entities.

These include the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the DNER, the Planning Board, the Puerto Rico Association of Economists, the Architects and Landscape Architects Association of Puerto Rico, and the Puerto Rican Planning Society.

Other organizations that participated in the effort include Para La Naturaleza, the United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico, the Diocese of Fajardo-Humacao of the Catholic Church of Puerto Rico, the Ecumenical and Interreligious Coalition of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Green Building Council-Caribbean Chapter, and the Ana G. Méndez University System Center for Studies for Sustainable Development, as well as several of the most renowned conservation organizations in the U.S., such as the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Waterkeeper Alliance, Environmental Defense Fund, and the World Wildlife Fund, among others.

The Pro NEC Coalition has promoted the protection and ecotourism development of the area for more than two decades.

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