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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Legislator seeks to investigate land removal in Toa Alta

The Bucarabones Valley Agricultural Reserve

By The Star Staff

Given the complaints that the Toa Alta municipal administration has removed land in the Bucarabones Valley Agricultural Reserve without authorizations or permits from the relevant agencies, in clear violation of agricultural and environmental laws and regulations, Rep. Yazzer Morales Díaz announced Monday the filing of a resolution to investigate the situation urgently.

“Within the geographical demarcation of the Municipality of Toa Alta, spaces have been designated to be conserved as natural areas of ecological and agricultural importance. Among these, we can mention the Bucarabones Valley Agricultural Reserve,” Morales Díaz said. “However, it has become common knowledge that the current municipal administration of Toa Alta has dedicated itself to removing part of the topsoil from the reserve without having the authorizations, endorsements or permits of the regulatory agencies of Puerto Rico, in clear violation of the applicable environmental laws and regulations.”

“The Mayor alleges that he has permits granted by the Land Authority and the Department of Agriculture; presumably, they are to enter the farm,” the New Progressive Party (District 9, Toa Alta and Bayamón) lawmaker said. “However, the aforementioned government entities are not called upon to grant permits to extract topsoil or perform other types of construction, such as the one intended to be done in Toa Alta within the lands of a nature reserve. This is something we have to investigate deeply.”

The measure orders the House Agriculture Committee to conduct the referenced investigation and submit a detailed report within 120 calendar days.

Various news media have reported that the Municipality of Toa Alta is currently using heavy machinery to create a road in the agricultural reserve, which is classified as protected rustic land because of its high natural fertility.

Agronomist Ian Pagán Roig said that due to the removal of topsoil and deforestation -- the latter done without any permission from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources -- agricultural land and numerous streams, including the Bucarabones River itself, have already been impacted. In fact, he added, the affected lands are public lands that belong to the Puerto Rico Land Authority.

The legislator noted that the situation arose after highway PR-861 suffered two cave-ins during Hurricane Fiona and after a landslide that was never addressed following Hurricane Maria. The increased volume of traffic on the only alternate route, highway PR-2, supposedly pushed the Municipality of Toa Alta to venture to create the environmentally chaotic situation, which endangers one of the few agricultural reserves in the town, Morales Díaz said.

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