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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor declares coastal erosion state of emergency

Besides declaring a state of emergency, Executive Order 2023-009, issued by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi on Tuesday, orders the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to execute a specific action plan to deal with coastal erosion with the support of state and federal agencies.

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia signed an executive order Tuesday declaring a state of emergency to tackle the problem of beach and coastal erosion head-on.

Besides declaring a state of emergency, Executive Order (OE by its Spanish initials) 2023-009 orders the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) to execute a specific action plan to deal with coastal erosion with the support of state and federal agencies.

In addition, the governor announced the allocation of $5 million from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and $100 million from the Housing Department’s Infrastructure Mitigation Program under the Community Development Block Grant-Mitigation program for the effort.

“This Order reiterates that the public policy of our government will be the greatest protection, conservation and sustainable use of the coastal zone and all its natural resources, achieving an adequate balance between the public and private development of the coastal zone and the management and protection of coastal resources,” Pierluisi said.

“At the same time, the Order establishes as a priority scientific research, citizen participation, and assistance to coastal communities to control pollution and implement urgent measures to address the vulnerabilities of the coast and promote resilience and sustainability,” he said.

In 2021, the governor declared an ecological emergency to stop hard coral tissue loss disease and hosted multiple courses of action from the Committee of Experts on Climate Change.

The DNER, meanwhile, will take all necessary steps to raise funds in addition to those from ARPA and the Housing Department.

In the order, which seeks to implement concrete measures for prevention, mitigation, adaptation and resilience to sea level rise and coastal erosion, the governor instructed agencies to deal with permits, endorsements, consultations or certifications under the provisions of the 2000 Law on Procedure for Emergency Situations or Events. The requirements of OE-2023-003 extend the emergency declaration as it applies to the infrastructure for the damages caused by hurricanes Irma, María and Fiona and by the earthquakes of 2020.

DNER Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega stated that the emergency declaration “shows once again the commitment and proactivity of this administration to mitigate the consequences of global warming and its concern for natural resources.”

The OE provides guidance for possible prevention, mitigation, adaptation and resilience, and allocates, as never before, the necessary funds for implementation and establishes the specific public policy on the problem, she said.

The order establishes measures among which stand out the removal of facilities in ruins and/or abandoned facilities in the coastal zone and a committee that will give direction to those actions, The DNER is ordered, in collaboration with the municipalities, the island Planning Board and other public, private and nonprofit entities, as well as academia, to conduct an inventory of uninhabited properties and abandoned structures.

Housing Secretary William Rodríguez Rodríguez noted that “part of the purpose of recovery funds is to address needs that may get worse in the future.”

“With this in mind and following the governor’s public policy, it is that the strategic investment of these $100 million in mitigation funds is made to address a clear need to prevent further loss and damage in the highest risk areas, which have already seen the significant erosion of their coastlines with each cyclone or storm that has impacted our island,” he said.

Puerto Rico has about 1,121 kilometers of coastline, which includes beaches, cliffs and rocks, vegetation, and alluvial and anthropogenic coast. Of that coastal strip, about 37 percent is beaches and covers 44 municipalities. In addition, research conducted by the University of Puerto Rico’s Coastal Research and Planning Institute of Puerto Rico shows some 99 kilometers of coastline has migrated into the land area.

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