The San Juan Daily Star
Environmentalists: Highway project will displace an unknown number of residents
By John McPhaul
Thousands of properties in communities in the towns of Hatillo, Camuy, Quebradillas, Isabela, Moca and Aguadilla will be expropriated to extend Expressway 22 across the island to Aguadilla, environmentalists charged Monday.
“At this time it is impossible for us to identify which and how many communities will be impacted because the Highways and Transportation Authority (HTA) has kept the information hidden so that citizens do not find out,” said Abel Vale, president of Citizens of the Karst (Ciudadanos del Karso, or CDK). “This is another way in which the State prevents citizens from accessing public information.”
Until the environmental impact statement (DIA by its Spanish initials) is published, it will not be known exactly which communities will be affected, he said.
The problem is aggravated by the unusual haste of the government with regard to the project, the activists said in a press release. Citizens will have a reduced period to find out, be informed and be able to participate in the process, all this after having to read a technical document of hundreds of pages, they said.
“The people of Puerto Rico are well aware of the effects that occur and the consequences when the possible impacts on natural systems are not rigorously evaluated,” the CDK statement said. “When sections of the motorway begin to have problems with landslides or sinkholes, because it was built on clayey karst soil, we will all pay for the damage with our money.”
Law professor Jessica Rodríguez Martín compared the extension process of PR-22 with that of Route 66 at the end of the 1990s. In that project, it was possible to save the communities in the stretch from Río Piedras at the UPR Botanical Gardens to Barrio San Just in Trujillo Alto, she said.
“However, thousands of residents of the constructed sections lost their homes, and a life of years in community with their extended families,” Rodríguez Martín said. “People who had inherited their lots from their parents, people who had acquired their properties by paying for them peso by peso, who built their houses with their own hands and effort, were evicted because the government made the decision to literally run over them. The expropriated families received an amount of money that was insufficient to acquire another property, so they were divided and distributed among residences in various municipalities. I remember a phone call that occurred at dawn in which they informed me that one of the neighbors from a rural neighborhood in Carolina had tried to take her own life when they went to strip her of what little she had. That woman who had been happy in her field fell into such despair that she could not find answers for her future. Others succumbed to alcohol and drugs.”