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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House onsite hearing at Jobos Bay reserve marred by argument among participants

By John McPhaul

The Natural Resources Committee of the island House of Representatives held an onsite inspection at the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Salinas earlier this week as part of an investigation of alleged environmental crimes in the El Camino del Indio sector of Barrio Las Mareas.

Rep. Edgardo Feliciano Sánchez, who chairs the committee, toured the site in the company of House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández Montañez and representatives from the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), New Progressive Party, Puerto Rican Independence Party and Citizen Victory Movement delegations.

“We have come here to see firsthand the situation that has been reported on invaded land in this reserve, commercial development in the maritime zone and irregularities in the granting of permits,” Feliciano Sánchez said at the start of the visual inspection. “It is in our greatest interest to continue conducting from the House an orderly and transparent investigation about what has happened in this area for years. This reserve is home to dozens of mangroves, wetlands and marine species.”

During the hearing an argument broke out between Eliezer Molina, who ran for governor as an independent candidate in 2020, and PDP House members Hernández Montañez and Luis “Narmito” Ortiz Lugo.

“You do not have [the expertise] to define what point is or is not a federal reserve,” Molina told the majority lawmakers.

“We are going to stop,” Hernández Montañez said.

“Stop if you want, but here everyone committed environmental illegalities,” Molina replied. “Totally. And can you tell me what that is? A mangrove. Whether this is private or not, it does not give you the right.”

“We are going to leave this man here who …” the House speaker said, to which while Molina: “What? Get on with doing your job is what you should do. You must be ashamed here that people have to come for you to move.”

Molina then asked: “Where is Narmito?

And Narmito replied: “Here we are, what is the matter with you?”

“You, tell the people, are you responsible for what Aqueducts [and Sewer Authority] has to do here?” Molina said. “Come on, say it! Because it’s easy to talk to the press, talk to me.”

“Go to hell,” Ortiz Lugo said.

“You can go to hell,” Molina replied.

During the tour of El Camino del Indio, the legislators were accompanied by Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) interim secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega; the assistant secretary of the Management Office of Permits (OGPe), Gabriel Hernández; and LUMA Energy Vice President of Strategic Affairs Kevin Acevedo. Agency heads fielded questions from lawmakers about possible damages to the reserve area, the process of granting permits, and the details of the people and officials who have been part of a possible corruption scheme that continues to impact an area protected by federal land state laws.

Rodríguez Vega pointed out to the legislators where the natural reserve begins and ends.

“As you can see, there are structures within the reserve, impacting mangroves and also, there are structures within the maritime-terrestrial zone that are not part of the reserve,” the DNER official said.

She noted that with the naked eye, you can see in the area where structures are in noncompliance with DNER regulations.

“The current investigation focuses on the alleged environmental crime in the reserve,” Feliciano Sánchez said. “However, we are also attentive to the other construction and projects that have affected the maritime-terrestrial zone for years.”

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