By John McPhaul
Colonial Parking Corp., which is at the center of a controversy over the operation of an exclusive parking lot for the Hotel El Conquistador and the filming of the television series “Fantasy Island” on a piece of land belonging to the Northeast Ecological Corridor Nature Reserve (NEC), has a record of multiple violations of laws and regulations for activities carried out in the area since 2012, environmental groups charged Wednesday.
The violations include, among others, a referral to the island Department of Justice made in August 2015 after the company allegedly obtained a permit through fraud.
“It seems that [engineer] Gabriel Hernández Rodríguez, assistant secretary of the Permits Office (OGPe by its Spanish initials), and Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Cidre decided to give Colonial Parking the permit, last February, as a reward for all the illegal acts they have previously committed,” said Nilda García, president of the Pro-NEC Coalition. “Therefore, we demand that both public officials enforce the law, and immediately repeal the permit.”
According to government documents, in July 2012, OGPe granted a permit to Colonial Parking to remove the upper layer of soil on a piece of land located in the NEC, just one month after the law was signed establishing as a public policy the preservation, conservation and restoration of the NEC Nature Reserve (Law No. 126 of June 25, 2012, as amended). The company, instead, extracted fill more than 20 feet deep, as a quarry, to be used in a construction project outside the nature reserve, the coalition said.
After a complaint filed by the Pro-NEC Coalition, OGPe and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources conducted two inspections at the site in 2013 and 2014, observing that Colonial Parking had also removed vegetation and other debris on two subsequent occasions, depositing that material in the bed of a creek that crosses the property.
Consequently, OGPe imposed a fine totaling $150,000 on the company and its contractors. The office in turn made a referral against Colonial Parking to the Department of Justice for the possible commission of the crime of intent, after determining that the company had submitted false information in order to induce OGPe to approve the permit under false pretenses, when otherwise it would have been denied.
In June 2016, Colonial Parking again made illegal use of the land, this time as exclusive parking for the El Conquistador & Las Casitas Resorts hotel. After another complaint filed by the Pro-NEC Coalition, OGPe issued an additional fine for the sum of $700, after concluding that the company carried out the operation without the necessary permits.
Later, in July 2017, the company impacted the NEC reserve again. The coalition once again denounced the situation after learning that OGPe had once again issued a permit despite knowing the history of violations committed by Colonial Parking. The permit was granted under the auspices of Ian Carlo Serna as director of OGPe, who until last year served as director of the Roosevelt Roads Redevelopment Authority and headed the Telecommunications Bureau. On this occasion, the coalition said, OGPe did not take any corrective action.