By John McPhaul
The minority leader for the New Progressive Party delegation in the House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Mendez, described as an “important step” for Vieques and Culebra that Congress approves a million-dollar appropriation that includes the continuation of the process of cleaning up more than 14,000 acres of land used by the Navy in both island municipalities.
The former Speaker of the Lower House thanked the resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer Gonzalez, for her “continuous defense of the people of Vieques and Culebra, because it is urgent that Congress do justice to these American citizens.”
“Congress is preparing to approve some $73 million for military construction in Puerto Rico. That package of funds includes money to continue the process of clearing the land in Vieques and Culebra. I urge U.S. Representatives and Senators to address this issue with the urgency it requires. Enough of delaying this cleanup process, it’s time to act,” said Méndez Núñez, who announced that he will be signing a letter to the congressional leadership of both national parties to demand the approval of the measure.
“The federal government’s priority should be to complete the decontamination of the land on the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra. It has been 17 years since the Navy ended its operations on Vieques and the clearing of all the land has still not been completed. In the case of Culebra, which the Navy ended its operations in the 1970s more than 40 years ago, unexploded ordnance is still found, even in residential areas. It is vital that this work be expedited,” said Méndez, who a few weeks ago held a meeting with Gretchen Sierra Zorita, appointed by President Joe Biden to address the affairs of Puerto Rico and the territories in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, to discuss this matter.
“Over the past four years, we worked hand in hand with the Resident Commissioner to streamline the congressional and Navy bureaucracy on this issue. Today we not only support these actions in the aforementioned budget line, but we will also act in favor of the approval of the measure because it is the least that Congress can do, which has to assume its responsibilities for decades of inaction,” said the also Representative for District #36 of Rio Grande, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Vieques and Culebra.
In 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded in a report that it will take about $500 million and an additional 15 years to complete the cleanup of the more than 14,560 acres of land used for decades as firing ranges in both Vieques and Culebra.
Since 2004, only about $180 million has been budgeted for — and approved — by the federal government to clean up contaminated land. This inaction has had the effect of dramatically delaying the project, from the original completion date scheduled for the summer of 2020, now to the middle of the next decade.