The San Juan Daily Star
USACE allocates $163 million to restore Martín Peña Channel
By John McPhaul
Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón celebrated on Wednesday the allocation of millions of dollars in funding for the restoration of the Martín Peña Channel (Caño Martín Peña) in San Juan, which will be managed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
“USACE has just allocated $163 million to begin the construction phase at Caño, which includes dredging,” the resident commissioner said in a written statement. “This has been a priority on my congressional agenda and I am pleased to share this achievement with all Caño residents.”
“This achievement is the sum of continuous efforts, communication with USACE and the state component, as well as with Proyecto Enlace, which have been waiting and working with my office for so long so that this work is completed,” the resident commissioner added.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said: “After years fighting for the Caño Martín Peña and as a result of my communications with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, today the allocation of funds of $163 million has been finalized to restore the channel and the nearby areas of the San Juan Bay Estuary.”
“This project will have a great impact on improving the health and quality of life of all the Caño communities,” the governor said. “It is a priority project of my administration and I will continue to allocate the necessary resources and work until it is fully achieved.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) also hailed the allocation.
“For years, the Trump administration callously ignored our calls to fund construction on the Caño despite constant pleas from our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico asking us to restore the area,” Schumer said in a written statement. “After fighting to secure a funding mechanism in the infrastructure bill, Representative Velázquez and I worked with the Biden administration to prioritize the selection of this much-needed project. Now, we are proud to announce that this historic funding is finally coming to help revitalize the Caño, and we will continue to work with residents and stakeholders to ensure that this social and environmental injustice is fully rectified.”
Velázquez added that “for many years I have fought on multiple fronts to secure funding to achieve the restoration of Caño Martin Peña and today I am super hopeful of what this news means for the communities of the Caño.”
“The day has finally come for this project to start!” she said. “I will continue to pay close attention to the disbursement of this financing and I will make sure that action is taken as soon as possible; the residents of Caño do not have to wait another day for the environmental justice they deserve.”
Lucy Cruz, president of the G-8, the organization of community leaders that represent the eight communities that border the channel, said: “This is a triumph for community work. It has not been easy, but we persevered.”
“We seek to work with all sectors to rescue a community and integrate its wealth and diversity into the city,” she added.
The approved funds will serve to clean up debris and clear the channel to a depth of 10 feet and and a width of 100 feet, stabilize the banks of the channel and help alleviate ongoing risks to public health and environmental issues.
The total cost is estimated at $250 million, with the federal government contributing $163 million and $88 million in additional funds provided by the non-federal sponsor Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña.
The Caño Martín Peña was once a broad channel linking San Juan Bay and San José Lagoon, but was filled in with garbage and other debris from squatters who migrated to San Juan from various parts of the island to the point where all that left was a fetid, narrow waterway barely a meter across in some sections.
Until recently, residents along the canal were forced to live in subhuman conditions with the fetid canal stinking up the area for blocks on end.
In recent years, however, residents have been relocated to more livable housing projects, both government and community-based, on the Cantera Peninsula.