Feds are monitoring Jobos Bay land invasion
By John McPhaul
Federal prosecutor W. Stephen Muldrow said at a press conference Tuesday regarding the investigation being conducted by local authorities into alleged squatting and/or environmental crimes at Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Salinas that “[o]bviously we have a lot of interest in the matter and you can have faith that we are aware of what is going on.”
In recent weeks, the installation of trailers and construction of houses on filled-in wetlands in the reserve has come to light.
A day earlier, La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Noelia García Bardales said former Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado correctly managed the environmental situation centering on what appear to be illegal utility hookups and construction at the Jobos Bay reserve.
“The reality is that Machargo’s strategy was successful,” García Bardales said at a press conference Monday. “He directed the investigation process through a law firm; he did not delegate it to [the] Justice [Department]. A law firm was hired by the Department of Natural [and Environmental] Resources itself to address the root problem.”
“The problem is addressed at the root by evicting and removing the invader from land, which is not only owned by the government of Puerto Rico, but has also been declared a nature reserve,” she added.
García Bardales said that, in her opinion, meting out fines to the so-called invaders did not solve the problem.
“The Department of Natural Resources may have started a process to issue fines. But, to show that the fine is executed correctly, there must be ownership, there must be permits to be able to identify if all these documents are true, they are legitimate,” she said. “There must be an analysis. Instead of proceeding with the strategy of fines, an analysis was directed so that the purpose is the eviction of people that we can identify who could simply be invaders.”
Appearing with other officials alongside the chief of staff, DNER Interim Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega agreed that Machargo’s management was correct in hiring the law firm.
“During the month of February, then-secretary Rafael Machargo responsibly hired a firm, a law firm that is currently in charge of pursuing the civil actions in this case,” Rodríguez Vega said.
Meanwhile, Aqueduct and Sewer Authority Executive President Doriel Pagán Crespo detailed how many illegal water connections persist in the invaded area of Jobos Bay.
“There are 13 connections, there are eight active and five inactive,” she said. “That means that of those eight that we were able to identify, we already internally proceeded to evaluate the documentation and they contained the permits that we require from any client in the authority.”
The officials made their statements after appearing at a public hearing before the Natural Resources Committee in the island House of Representatives that was suspended until April 18. However, the committee will conduct a visual inspection of the invaded area of the reserve today.
Machargo resigned last week as secretary of the DNER. According to official statements, his departure was due to “personal reasons.”
Also on Monday, Citizen Victory Movement Rep. Mariana Nogales Molinelli denounced the situation in Jobos Bay and called for extra protection for DNER personnel at the reserve who she said have been subjected to threats.