Expert: Public agencies ‘complicit’ in transgressions at Salinas reserve
By John McPhaul
The Natural Resources Committee of the island House of Representatives heard testimony Monday regarding the neglect on the part of various commonwealth agencies leading to the illegal development of the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Salinas.
The committee, chaired by Rep. Edgardo Feliciano Sánchez, held the first of a planned series of public hearings to address the alleged environmental crimes committed in the reserve.
The first deponent cited was surveyor Carlos Vega Santos, a professional who was hired by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) to address the case involving the reserve.
After providing a historical account of the divisions and dimensions of the protected land in Salinas, Vega Santos described how the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) permitted the segregation of the land in a manner that was “completely illegal.”
The surveyor pointed out that other agencies “have been complicit” in what has happened at Jobos Bay. Vega Santos added that in his investigative experience, the reserve has had problems with the access of information from government agencies.
The surveyor said he has tried to obtain data associated with PRASA, PREPA and the Permits Management Office.
“For example, I have tried to get information from the meters installed in the area to update my research and I still don’t have that information,” Vega Santos said.
The DNER contractor also deposed that on April 1, LUMA Energy, the consortium that manages the island’s electricity transmission and distribution system, did not attend a meeting that the Department of Natural Resources had called to discuss information on meters and electrical installations.
Feliciano Sánchez, meanwhile, asked questions about what was in the research reserve before it was acquired by the commonwealth.
“There were no physical occupations,” the surveyor stressed.
Also on Monday, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said he gave his approval to the DNER to file “all the cases that have been and will be” against occupants of the protected public wetland at Jobos Bay.
“Evict whoever needs to be evicted, order a cease and desist from any illegal practice that is being carried out, among other things,” the governor said at a press conference. “The department has already contracted a law firm with the necessary expertise to file these lawsuits. They have my approval, so everything that needs to be done is going to be done here. Disconnect what we have to disconnect from some utility. Sue whoever we have to sue to cease and desist from any violation of the law.”
“You also have my approval for the [Natural and Environmental Resources] department to plant mangroves and reforest,” Pierluisi added. “And it is possible for nonprofit entities to assist the department in that matter.”
The governor said demolishing structures and suing for damages so that the occupants have to pay for the rehabilitation of the reserve have not been ruled out.