Judge orders demolition of structures in Salinas reserve
By The Star Staff
A judge has ordered the demolition of illegal structures on the Camino del Indio in the Las Mareas sector of Salinas, in the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which were built without valid construction permits.
Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Anäis Rodríguez Vega and Salinas Mayor Karilyn Bonilla Colón announced earlier this week that Guayama Court Judge Josian Rivera Torres also revoked the use permit for its having been issued without jurisdiction and endorsements, and consequently it is null and void “ab initio.”
“The court’s recent decision reaffirms this Administration’s unwavering commitment to the protection and conservation of Puerto Rico’s environment and natural resources,” the DNER secretary said in a written statement. “It is time for those who think they are above the law to understand that public domain [assets] are a shared patrimony, not a private estate. Actions that threaten this legacy have no place on our island. Our responsibility is to guarantee their respect and care.”
The Salinas mayor pointed out that “the Court’s determination was expected and serves to keep citizens mindful of the importance of compliance with laws and regulations.”
“We in the Municipality of Salinas continue to work actively in the protection of the natural resources that belong to all of us,” Bonilla Colón said.
The court gave co-defendant Miguel A. Flores Torres 30 days to comply with the demolition order, which will be under the supervision and approval of the DNER. If he fails to comply within the established time, the Municipality of Salinas has the authority to carry out the demolition, on the condition that Flores covers the expenses incurred.
On Sept. 7 of this year, the DNER and the municipality filed a declaratory judgment and statutory injunction under Article 14.1 of Law No. 161 of Dec. 1, 2009 (Law for the Reform of Permitting Processes in Puerto Rico) against engineer Ángel Rodríguez Sánchez and Flores Torres. The plaintiffs contended that the Puerto Rico Planning Board concluded in a prior administrative proceeding, the determination of which is firm and final, that Use Permit 2019-279203-PUS-06518 was issued without jurisdiction by Rodríguez Sánchez as a licensed professional, whose accreditation certification has been expired since October 2017, and in violation of the Joint Permitting Regulations of 2020. Rodríguez Sánchez issued the permit in 2019.
The defendant will have to demolish – on an estimated 507 square meters – a structure under construction in block and concrete, a small finished structure of block and concrete construction, another small finished structure, gates, building materials in the area, stairs and even a dock.
In addition, an access gate in galvanized steel and a link wire fence with a concrete footing and a concrete fence on the east side and a link wire fence on the west side must also be removed.
The entire piece of land where the illegal construction is located in an area delimited as a Coastal Barrier Resource System (CBRS). A Coastal Barrier is a declaration by the federal government not to participate in and to disregard the development of such areas.
In addition, 98% of the land is located in the PR (Resource Preservation) district, which comprises properties or parts of them whose existing natural order must be maintained to a maximum extent. No construction is permitted in the district, except for those related to scientific studies.
In addition, the property is part of the Jobos Bay reserve, which is under federal and state administration and regulation.
Flores Torres is also being sued, along with a dozen other people, in a separate legal action by the DNER for invading and appropriating public lands within the reserve.