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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Salinas community leaders decry granting of permit to clear trees in floodplain

The residents of three Salinas communities said the permitted removal of trees will exacerbate flooding problems in the area and hurt water resources.

By The Star Staff

Community leaders from Salinas on Sunday denounced the granting of a permit by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources’ (DNER) to cut down and remove 79 trees as part of a project to sell lots in a floodplain along highway PR-701 adjacent to the Villa Cofresi, La Margarita, and the Villa Esperanza communities.

The residents said the removal of the trees will exacerbate flooding problems in the area and hurt water resources.

The Tree Cutting, Pruning, Transplanting and Planting Permit (O-R3-PMA01-GU-02419-30012023) issued by the DNER’s Auxiliary Secretariat for Permits, Endorsements and Specialized Services allows the owner of the land, Luis Caballero González, to cut down and remove 79 trees of different species for the creation of access roads for measurement and topographical surveying. Among the trees to be removed are the American guamá (Pithecellobium dulce), aroma (Acacia famsiana) and saman (Samanea saman).

“The DNER and the government continue to endanger the safety and lives of families in Salinas,” said Zinnia Vélez Figueroa, president of the Villa Cofresí community. “That path they want to make, that destruction of trees, is part of a controversial project for selling plots called Salimar. This is a floodable area, and by removing the trees, and if we allow them to fill in that area to build there, the people of my community are going to drown.”

For her part, Wanda Janet Ríos Colorado, president of the Residents Association of La Margarita, criticized the DNER for granting the permit.

“This is an area at high risk of flooding, of tsunami, where there are wetlands and archaeological sites, in which no type of construction should be allowed,” she said. “In addition, the water table of the aquifer is three feet, according to what experts who are currently conducting studies in the area told us. Therefore, we cannot continue endangering the aquifer, which is our only source of water, for our lives and properties.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), meanwhile, has identified the three communities as being at high risk for cancer and other diseases due to severe ethylene oxide contamination from the Steri Tech company.

Víctor Alvarado Guzmán, coordinator of the Environmental Dialogue Committee, recounted his attempt to file a complaint with the DNER.

“I went to Guayama to file a complaint about this permit, which was recommended by Juan G. Colón Rivera, a forest biologist, and authorized by Luis E. Torres Zamora, a DNER regional director. They explained to us that we must challenge the permit, in writing, directly to the DNER Secretary, Anaís Rodríguez Vega, in San Juan,” Alvarado Guzmán said. “After the DNER did not inform the affected communities about granting that permit on Feb. 10, the process is also complicated by having to go to San Juan to challenge it.”

The community spokespersons insisted that they would take all necessary actions to protect the life and safety of their people, given the danger posed by the proposed construction.

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