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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House panel cites DNER chief, other officials to appear at hearings on disputed Jobos Bay developmen

House Natural Resources, Environmental Affairs and Recycling Committee Chairman Edgardo Feliciano Sánchez

By John McPhaul

Rep. Edgardo Feliciano Sánchez, who chairs the Natural Resources, Environmental Affairs and Recycling Committee in the island House of Representatives, announced Monday that on April 4, public hearings related to alleged environmental violations in Jobos Bay in Salinas will begin.

“We hope that the Secretary of Natural and Environmental Resources [DNER] Rafael Machargo complies with the information request made by this Committee and delivers the documentation this week, so that all the delegations are ready for the public hearing that we will hold next Monday, April 4,” Feliciano Sánchez said in a written statement. “For this hearing, we will be citing [DNER] Secretary Rafael Machargo, as well as the mayor of the Municipality of Salinas, Karilyn Bonilla, and the directors of LUMA Energy and the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority [PRASA].”

The hearing is expected to clarify the inaction on the part of the central government, including the DNER, in dealing with serious environmental violations and unpermitted construction that have allegedly occurred in recent years.

Likewise, Machargo is expected to present a mitigation plan for the Jobos Bay nature reserve to the House of Representatives, and both LUMA and PRASA will be called upon to explain how people have utility services, and are paying for them, in the absence of construction permits.

Also on Monday, Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández said the DNER has not completed the legal process, that of assigning a private attorney to the case, to deal with clandestine development within the federal reserve in Salinas.

“The Department of Natural Resources several months ago, in April 2021, met with the Department of Justice and several officials who went there and it was agreed at their request, from the Department of Natural Resources, a waiver was given for them to hire (a) a law firm to perform that function,” Emanuelli Hernández said. “As part of that waiver, we demand that as soon as the lawsuit is filed, be it eviction or suit, they have to notify us and keep us informed at all times.”

Meanwhile, former DNER secretary Tania Vázquez Rivera alleged on Monday that in 2017 she asked several agencies, including the Department of Justice, for help to deal with the invasion of developers in Jobos Bay.

“When I arrived in 2017, I found out that there were some invasions and I wrote a letter to NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] in April 2017 to Jeffrey Payne [then-executive director of the federal agency] explaining the situation that we were having in the department and requesting assistance from NOAA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers,” Vázquez Rivera said in an interview with Red Informativa.

The Justice secretary said he had not yet received the complaint, or any evidence on the case from the current DNER secretary.

Emanuelli Hernández said that as soon as they receive the information they will start processing the case quickly.

“On the other hand, there is the aspect of environmental crimes,” he said. “Those crimes are also prosecutable and, well, it’s a lot of pain. Now, for that, the expertise is in Natural Resources and once all that evidence reaches the Department [of Justice] there are instructions from yours truly to process it quickly.”

Questioned about the public complaints and that the press has reported on threats against residents of the area, Emanuelli Hernández maintained that “What happens is that imagine that there is a threat, but a threat has to reach the Prosecutor’s Office.”

“I cannot [proceed] based on what the press says or what a particular person says,” he said. “To prove that threat there has to be a person who receives the threat, what kind of threat it was, and that is processed.”

“No, it has not arrived. That complaint has not reached the department,” Emanuelli Hernández said.

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