• The San Juan Daily Star

Senate to vote on bill banning coastal construction

Interim Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega opposes the approval of Senate Bill 43.

By The Star Staff

After postponing a vote on the bill, the Senate is slated to vote today on legislation that would establish a ban on construction in coastal areas.

Senate Bill 43 says the construction moratorium would “allow us to rethink the space and the structures within it, to correct their vulnerabilities.”

“Also, the construction moratorium helps curb the impulse to want to rebuild quickly, which can sometimes lead to unwanted construction,” the measure says. “In addition, it is a tool to reduce the physical and social vulnerability of the coastal communities of the island.”

The bill got a positive report from the Senate committees on Economic Development, Essential Services and Consumer Affairs, and of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

After Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, the team from the Puerto Rico and Caribbean Beach Network, and the Puerto Rico Coastal Planning and Research Institute conducted a study where it was established as the main finding that the hurricane had a flattening effect on a large portion of the island’s beaches.

The study pointed out that the hurricane had a double effect on the extension of the island’s beaches. Beaches on the northeast coast were extended further, but there was a reduction in the beach extension, or erosion, on beaches located on the southeast, north central, and northwest coasts of Puerto Rico.

There were cases where beaches lost up to 60 meters of beach extension in less than 12 hours. Some of these examples could be identified in sections of the coast in the municipalities of Humacao, Yabucoa, Barceloneta, Aguadilla, Rincón, Aguada and Mayagüez, among others.

Puerto Rico has 44 coastal municipalities where some 1,971,524 people reside. The Puerto Rican archipelago has 1,225 beaches, led by the offshore island municipality of Vieques with 172, followed by Cabo Rojo with 127, Culebra, the other offshore island municipality, with 111, Ceiba with 60, and Rincón with 53.

Since 2017 it has been reported that in the coastal area there are 260 kilometers of sanitary water infrastructure, 200 kilometers of drinking water infrastructure, 19 wastewater treatment plants, 15 hospitals, 13 yacht clubs, 12 ports and several power generation complexes.

Interim Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega opposes the approval of Senate Bill 43. The DNER intervenes with the maritime-terrestrial zone when it is called upon to make a demarcation and in cases through concession. A demarcation “is a survey plan that determines the limit between heritage assets and public domain assets, and does not constitute a permit,” the agency said. A concession, meanwhile, is “an authorization to carry out an activity or construction on public domain land,” the DNER said.

The DNER through Regulation No. 4860 establishes criteria and mechanisms to delimit, monitor, conserve and clean up the maritime-terrestrial zone.

“Since the passage of the hurricanes in 2017 to the present, the DNER has received very few requests for concessions to carry out any type of activity in maritime-terrestrial public domain assets and the concessions that have been granted have been mainly emergency, applicable by exception in cases where life, safety and property have been imminently threatened,” the DNER said. “It should be noted that the ordinary concessions, to be granted, require an exhaustive analysis, carried out by highly specialized technical personnel of the DNER.”

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