• The San Juan Daily Star

Muni legislator demands public hearing on Peñuelas landfill operator

A municipal legislator in Peñuelas is demanding that the Natural and Environmental Resources Department hold public hearings before renewing the operating permit for the landfill managed by Ecosystems in the southern coastal town.

By John McPhaul

Elvin Lugo Rodríguez, a municipal legislator for the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) in Peñuelas, demanded Tuesday that Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Rafael Machargo hold public hearings before renewing the operating permit for the Ecosystems company landfill located in the Tallaboa Encarnación neighborhood in Peñuelas.

“We cannot allow this new permit to pass under the table without Peñolanos having the opportunity to express themselves about it,” Lugo Rodríguez said. “Likewise, we demand that these public hearings be close to the communities that have been directly affected by the landfills and not in distant places like San Juan.”

The PIP leader demanded that Peñuelas Mayor Gregory González Souchet and the president of the Municipal Legislature also request that the DNER hold public hearings in Peñuelas and clearly state their position on the granting of the renewal of the operating permit.

“The Ecosystems company violated ordinance No. 13, which clearly prohibited the deposit and use of toxic coal ash in Peñuelas, forcing the community to take to the streets to defend the will of the Peñolano people as set out in the ordinance,” Lugo Rodríguez insisted. “This attitude of contempt toward our people cannot go unpunished, so we make our demand of the mayor -- I am not the first to point out that directors of the company have been linked with campaign donations to the Popular Party -- to oppose the renewal of the operating permit.”

José Manuel Díaz Pérez, a Peñolano environmental leader and member of the PIP’s Environmental Division, said the Ecosystems company has been managed by people involved with the environmental disaster caused by the PROTECO landfill.

“In the case of PROTECO, a landfill adjacent to Ecosystems, the federal Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] has a superfund project operating due to contamination with mercury and other contaminants, which threaten the lives of the families from nearby communities that are supplied by PRASA [Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority] wells,” Díaz Pérez said. “The Ecosystems administration cannot ignore this environmental disaster and the total non-compliance with the provisions of the PROTECO landfill closure order, since both have been chaired by the same person.”

In 2017, through a corporate resolution submitted to the island State Department, Ecosystems replaced its then president, Jorge Fernández Pabón, with Ivelisse Estrada, following the intervention of the EPA against PROTECO. Fernández Pabón was also the president of PROTECO.

“The move that Ecosystems made was clearly aimed at separating one company from the other,” Díaz Pérez said. “In addition, his action materialized in the middle of the fight against the ash dumping in Peñuelas. After these shady operations by Ecosystems, it is more than proper that the DNER holds public hearings in Peñuelas.”

“The communities of Tallaboa Encarnación and Seboruco have suffered for decades the effects of contamination resulting from the mismanagement of landfills, and it is important that they can express their rejection of the granting of permits to companies that do not care about the health of the people,” he added. “We saw it with PROTECO and now with Ecosystems, so we have to demand that the DNER hold the hearings.”

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