• The Star Staff

Rivera Cruz: DNER lacks employees to deal with growing trash crisis

By The Star Staff

Government Transition Committee Chairman Ramón Luis Rivera Cruz said Tuesday that the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) has very few employees to deal with the island’s next big crisis: the lack of landfills to deal with the growing volume of trash.

If Law 80 for early retirement were implemented, it would leave the DNER without 474 employees. The government decided early this week not to enforce it following opposition by the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico.

Rivera Cruz said DNER Secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado has been with the agency for only a short time.

“It must be recognized that the secretary started at the agency in March; that is, he has practically had perhaps two or three months only to be able to follow up on all the initiatives of the department because he has practically been operating with half of the employees,” Rivera Cruz said. “Within that context, he communicated to us the challenges that lie ahead, such as, once and for all, having a landfill management plan because that is going to be, perhaps, the next great health crisis that Puerto Rico may have.”

He noted that from the testimony of the DNER secretary, some five or six landfills are in compliance.

Machargo Maldonado said in an interview meanwhile that he was still working on the cost estimates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in order to reopen the Mayagüez Zoo and could not provide more details on the facility.

On Tuesday, he gave an overview of the achievements of his agency: The approval in the Bipartisan Budget Act of $2.5 billion for the construction of flood control projects in various municipalities such as the Puerto Nuevo River canalization project ($1.585 billion), and the Yagüez River, in a collaborative agreement with the Puerto Rico National Guard; and the contracting of portable pumps and electrical generators, while permanent pumps are designed and built in the flood control houses.

Machargo Maldonado affirmed that his first task as secretary was to work with the improvements to the pump houses, which until his arrival in March were detained, putting at risk a FEMA contribution of over $23 million. He said that thanks to the proactive actions taken, floods were avoided during the recent named storms Isaias and Laura in the various areas that receive service from the pump houses, such as Ocean Park, Santurce, Condado, Cataño and coastal parts of Guaynabo.

During Machargo Maldonado’s tenure, multiple agreements have been reached that have been for the benefit of the well-being of the citizenry, including that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will award the saline intrusion control project for the Antón Ruiz River in Humacao at a cost of $3.6 million; the commencement of work for the protection of the entrance bridge to the town of Dorado as part of the Río La Plata Flood Control Project at a cost of $9.5 million; the allocation of $7 million by FEMA for risk mitigation in the Cerrillo and Portugués dams and an additional $2 million for the Ajíes and Dagüey dams.

In addition, under the current administration it was possible to obtain 100 percent federal funds (without any state matching) for the Puerto Nuevo River canalization project. The project includes the canalization of the Puerto Nuevo River from the De Diego Expressway (PR-22) to the University of Puerto Rico Botanical Garden (PR-1) and will serve to protect more than 7,500 residences and more than 700 public and commercial properties valued at over $ 3 billion. At the same time, it will stimulate the economy of the Municipality of San Juan during the construction work and afterward, through the establishment of new industries and businesses, Machargo Maldonado said.

Likewise, he said the DNER worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to clean up 360 bodies of water throughout Puerto Rico. More than 200 river and stream cleaning projects were carried out in which the DNER was a sponsor.

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