The San Juan Daily Star
Resident commissioner files Vieques Recovery and Redevelopment Act
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón
By THE STAR STAFF
Moving forward with the cleanup and decontamination of land, access to healthcare services, energy sustainability and economic development are priorities for Vieques that Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón has been working on and which are included in her bill entitled the “Vieques Recovery and Redevelopment Act.”
The measure would establish a compensation fund for people who exhibit harmful effects on their health and reside in Vieques. For this, language is included in the measure with specific procedures for compensation and in this way expedites the claim process of Viequenses. An example is the source of compensation that would be called the Government Liquidation Fund, so “new money” is not allocated, but rather the compensation would come from an existing source and funds would only be obligated as claims progress.
The amount of compensation to individuals would be from $50,000 to $110,000 depending on the severity of the condition they may present along with proof of health problems and residence in Vieques.
As compensation to the municipality, expenses would be covered to supply and equip a health center and maintain pediatric and chronic disease services, as well as expenses for medical transportation and telemedicine services delivered in Vieques.
Compensation also would allow studies on future environmental decontamination and on the establishment of an autonomous energy network.
Also under the legislation, a special master post would be created that would allocate the compensation from the aforementioned settlement fund in accordance with the requirements clearly specified in the measure, as claims are deemed eligible. During last year’s budget discussion, the then-leadership of the Committee on Natural Resources in the U.S. House of Representatives had suggested channeling the funds through the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs, but the resident commissioner, along with the current chairman of that committee, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), objected to Puerto Rico’s affairs being addressed by the Department of the Interior because it does not have jurisdiction over the island. Thus the measure reiterates that it is through a “Special Master” under the Department of Justice, an entity with proven competence in such cases.
González Colón introduced the legislation in the 116th and 117th Congress and it was discussed in a public hearing before the Committee on Natural Resources and some of its parts were considered for inclusion in the 2022 federal budget bill.