By The Star Staff
Three individuals were indicted by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico on Thursday for violations of the Clean Water Act in the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Reserve and the Las Mareas community in Salinas.
The defendants are Rafael Carballo Díaz and Nathaniel Hernández Claudio, who from June 2018 to December 2023 allegedly illegally deposited material in federally protected wetlands and waters in the aforementioned areas. Carballo Díaz ran the lodging business El Cacique Resort, and Hernández Claudio served as the resort’s host and property manager.
“This action is an example of the commitment of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources [DNER] to the protection of our island’s natural treasures,” DNER Secretary Anaís Rodríguez Vega said in a written statement.
Awildo Jiménez Mercado, owner of another lodge called Hidden Paradise, also faces charges of violating the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act by building a pier without authorization. Both establishments, El Cacique Resort and Hidden Paradise, offered short-term rentals with swimming pools and outdoor dining areas.
The Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972, seeks to protect U.S. waters and prohibits the discharge of any pollutant without a permit. The Rivers and Harbors Act, in force since 1899, regulates navigable waters and prohibits unauthorized construction on them. Both laws safeguard coastal waters within the Jobos Estuarine Reserve.
“The collaboration between the DNER and federal authorities is a clear message to the community: we will not tolerate violations of Puerto Rico’s environmental laws,” Rodríguez Vega emphasized. She stressed the importance of ministerial actions in line with the environmental public policy established in the Puerto Rico Constitution.
The Jobos Estuarine Reserve, designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1981, encompasses some 2,800 acres of coastal ecosystems in southern Puerto Rico, home to endangered species such as the brown pelican, peregrine falcon, hawksbill turtle, and West Indian manatee.
The defendants were arrested and appeared before Magistrate Judge Marshal D. Morgan of the U.S. District Court for Puerto Rico. If convicted, they face up to three years in prison for violations of the Clean Water Act, fines and corrective measures to remove illegal structures. Jiménez Mercado could also face an additional year for violating the Rivers and Harbors Act.
The prosecution of the cases is led by Patrick M. Duggan of the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and Assistant Attorney General Seth A. Erbe, environmental litigation coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico.