Mayor defends public-private partnership to manage Camuy Caverns
By The Star Staff
Camuy Mayor Gabriel Hernández Rodríguez defended on Tuesday the possibility of putting the operation and management of the Parque las Cavernas de Camuy under a public-private partnership (PPP).
As the STAR reported at the time, officials first discussed the idea in 2016 because the caves needed a makeover.
The Río Camuy caverns are part of an extensive network of natural limestone caves and underground waterways carved out by the Río Camuy, the third-largest underground river in the world. They were officially discovered in 1958.
During public hearings this week, Public-Private Partnership Authority (P3A) Director Fermín Fontanés Gómez said the agency was working on a proposal to put the caves under a PPP. He said the agency was conducting a feasibility study after the proposed PPP for the caves was submitted to the agency in April.
The mayor said he supports the idea as long as the park’s rehabilitation and development with private funds creates jobs at the local level and boosts tourism in Camuy and in other municipalities of the northern zone.
Because the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources does not have the staff to maintain the facilities and conduct tours, the park has been closed longer than it has been operating over the past five years. Furthermore, in the 38 years under the agency’s jurisdiction, only 25% of the 256 acres of land that make up the park have been developed.
“I favor any PPP that represents a benefit for Camuy and the northern part of Puerto Rico,” Hernández Rodríguez said in a radio interview (Red Informativa). “That represents greater economic development and more tourists who visit us to continue growing the northern area.”
The mayor in the past has expressed an interest in managing the facilities as a municipal corporation, but as he indicated, rehabilitating the facility would cost millions of dollars, which the municipality does not have.
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Ángel Matos García charged that the P3A is privatizing the Camuy Caverns behind the backs of the people and Camuy. At a House Treasury Committee hearing, Fontanés acknowledged that the agency was evaluating a PPP for the Camuy Caverns National Park.
“This government intends to privatize the island’s natural resources after privatizing the highways, airports and docks,” Matos García stated. “Furthermore, in this new environmental crime against our resources, the government intends to privatize this national park to hold weddings, dances, concerts, carnivals and bullfights.”
“With the desire for profit, they prefer to assassinate a national heritage that is part of the tourist offer to residents and visitors,” the lawmaker added.
Later on Tuesday, Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega denied any plan for privatization of the Camuy River Caves Park.
“We are going to wait for the study of feasibility and convenience of rehabilitation, operation and management of the Park, carried out by the Public-Private Partnerships Authority, and see the analysis that is made of this valuable natural resource,” Rodríguez Vega said in a written statement. “It should be clear that there is no talk of a sale or privatization.”
“As head of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), my ministerial duty is to ensure the effective protection and conservation of each of our natural resources, including those under the national parks program,” the official added.