Justice Dept. saw no cause to investigate questionable construction at Jobos Bay in 2019
By John McPhaul
Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández said Monday that the agency’s file on the situation in Jobos Bay in Salinas, where illegal construction has taken place, shows that in 2019 it was believed that no reasons existed to investigate.
“At that time, it appears from the file that there were no elements to [warrant] carrying out a criminal investigation,” Emanuelli Hernández said in a written statement. “In criminal terms, at that time, the evidence that emerged from the documents was not enough to act on.”
Questioned about what has changed from 2019 to now, given that the alleged environmental crimes are the same, Emanuelli Hernández replied: “Now I am the secretary of Justice. And I guarantee you that I am going to investigate and anyone who sees what is happening knows that crimes have been committed there. And I’m going to investigate.”
Also on Monday, Salinas Mayor Karylin Bonilla Colón said after the conclusion of a public hearing on the apparent illegal activities at Jobos Bay that she handed over all the documents to the Legal Division of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER).
“The information that I have is due to the interventions and the direct communication that I have with the Vigilance Corps, which are the ones with whom we work hand in hand,” Bonilla said. “[Regarding] the rangers, we know of countless interventions that they carried out, not only for the cutting down of mangroves.”
Asked if she knows that the documents were submitted to the DNER’s Legal Division, the mayor answered: “It is the information that the [Vigilance] Corps shares with us, which is the one with whom we have constant communication.”
After those statements, the New Progressive Party (NPP) delegation in the House of Representatives denounced an alleged attempt by Popular Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers to hide the role played by the municipal administration of Salinas and its mayor in the illegal construction in the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Reps. José Aponte Hernández and Joel Franqui Atiles demanded that the House Natural Resources Committee summon staff from the CCVS (Cayey, Coamo, Villalba and Salinas) Consortium to provide explanations as to how permits are granted for construction in the nature reserve.
“What happened this morning, when the Natural Resources Committee, after puffing their chests all the past week saying that they would investigate this matter in depth only to cancel the public hearing with a lame excuse, is nothing more than an attempt to paralyze the investigation because they know that personnel from the CCVS Consortium, of which the mayor is a member, played an important role in the illegal construction carried out in the protected area of Jobos Bay,” Franqui Atiles said in a written statement.
In the morning, the Natural Resources Committee postponed its work related to the matter until April 18.
The CCVS Regional Permit Office is located on Victoria Mateo Street, in the former Salinas fire station.
“It is imperative that the Consortium provide clear and detailed explanations to the people of Puerto Rico about how they decided to grant the permits that allowed this environmental crime in Salinas,” Franqui Atiles added. “We want to know the complete process, including the people who worked on this matter in the Consortium Permits Office. [Its members have] to be summoned to testify urgently.”
“There is talk of the agencies that presented papers today, but the municipality was never mentioned … Aponte Hernández said. “It would be necessary to see what the participation of the municipal administration of Salinas has been in this whole matter of the Jobos Bay reserve.”
Meanwhile, the island House Natural Resources, Environmental Affairs and Recycling Committee will conduct an onsite inspection on Wednesday at Jobos Bay site where unpermitted activities have taken place.
Other officials participating in the inspection will be from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, LUMA Energy, the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority and the Permits Management Office, the committee announced earlier Monday.
On April 18, the public hearing process will continue so that interim DNER Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega can testify before the House committee.
Last week, several campers were removed from the area of the reserve in question.