By The Star Staff
After almost three years of intense discussions in hearings, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia has signed Senate Bill 895 into law, which aims to facilitate the redevelopment and growth of the now-defunct Roosevelt Roads Naval Base.
The measure, authored by Popular Democratic Party Sen. Javier Aponte Dalmau, would create the legal framework for the planned land management of the former U.S. naval base in Ceiba.
“With this new law, we take a huge step in the right direction to move from the stagnation of almost 20 years in the development of the former Roosevelt Roads base in Ceiba into the promotion of a planned and beneficial economic development for the entire eastern region of the country,” Aponte Dalmau said.
While there are some projects operating at the base, the Financial Oversight and Management Board recently rejected a lease for 1,100 acres at the former military base for up to 100 years to develop a large-scale real estate project because of irregularities in the process.
The oversight board said that after reviewing Contract No. 2020-000022, or the lease agreement between the Local Redevelopment Authority for Roosevelt Roads (LRA) and Loopland Development LLC and other documents, it opted to reject them because the process leading to their award included several irregularities. The procedure for awarding the contracts did not promote market competition, as required by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, and government policy.
Aponte Dalmau said that according to the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990, the island Legislature had to authorize adequate land management.
He added that for this reason, he decided to create a legal framework to plan the matters related to the management of the lands in Ceiba to develop residential, tourist and other types of diverse development.
Aponte Dalmau also noted that although the governor converted his bill into law, “he opposed it for a long time, as did the secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, Manuel Cidre, since the intention was to establish another model of land disposal based on a leasing method, without having to go to the Legislative Assembly.”
“We object to this vision because we believe it does not protect the public interest and is a mechanism not commonly used in Puerto Rico for this type of development,” the legislator added.
The new law contains language that defines the processes of sales and delivery of ownership of the parcels available in Roosevelt Roads, thus complementing Act 508 of 2004 and delegating to the LRA the power to follow a process of evaluations to dispose of the land in the most orderly manner.
“In this way we promote the economic redevelopment of the old base with greater controls while increasing the potential benefit for the region and for the country,” Aponte Dalmau said.
He added that in January he will ask the Senate to pass House Bill 1430, which amends the Puerto Rico Internal Revenue Code of 2011 to establish a financing mechanism using a portion of sales and use tax (IVU) collections to make improvement projects self-sustainable and to maintain the old naval base.
“This portion of the IVU collections would serve as a tool for improving the infrastructure for common use on these lands so they do not burden the government’s General Fund,” the Carolina senator said. “The idea is to create a self-financing fund in perpetuity that guarantees the facilities’ continuous maintenance.”
The Carolina senator highlighted that, after the approval of the law he crafted, “the current government administration no longer has any excuse to stop the development of large-scale projects with enormous economic, touristic and social impact in Roosevelt Roads.”
“Now all you need is good management to take advantage of this situation and convert the eastern region into the region of greatest economic growth in the country during the coming years.”
Finally, he advised that he will be closely monitoring tenders for projects to redevelop Roosevelt Roads to ensure they meet requirements of competition in the market, transparency and advertising to the benefit of the island.