SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico--(BUSINESS WIRE)--A group of residents from the communities along the Caño Martín Peña, led by leaders of the grassroots organization G-8, symbolically dredged the tidal channel by hand to call for urgent action by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on approval of the feasibility study required the channels environmental restoration.
“For over a year now, the Corps’ Headquarters in Washington DC has delayed the feasibility and environmental compliance process. They come up with argument after argument to avoid moving forward with the feasibility study approval,” said Carmen Pizarro, a member of the G-8, as the group moved toward the Corps’ office in Puerto Rico carrying eight buckets filled with contaminated sediments and labeled after each of the eight communities and with the words “injustice”, “discrimination”, “insensibility”.
“We feel we have been taken for a ride and let down, since the project is not being addressed with the urgency that is required to protect the health of thousands who face frequent flooding with waters contaminated with raw sewage.”
Through the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, Congress authorized $150M for the environmental restoration of the Caño Martín Peña, conditioned to the approval of a feasibility study prepared by the non-Federal interest, the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña. Since then, ENLACE has invested $3M in scientific studies, including $350,000 transferred to the U.S. Corps of Engineers in 2012 so the federal agency could review the feasibility study and make it compliant with their standards. In addition, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources has transferred $100,000 to the Corps for the same purpose. ENLACE worked very closely with the Corps’ Jacksonville District Office during the different phases of the feasibility study before it reached Headquarters.
“It has been almost eight years since WRDA 2007, and it is not until now, after a substantial investment of time and funds, that the Corps of Engineers is raising concerns that they could have identified from day one. We cannot wait any longer, nor can we allow the time and funds invested to go to waste,” said Mario Núñez Mercado, spokesperson for the G-8. “If this is not resolved soon, the base studies performed for the report will expire, and that would be a fatal blow to the Project.”
The feasibility process agreed upon included seven revisions, and is currently pending approval of the fifth revision necessary to release the document for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the formal process of public comments. Without completing this phase, the entire process is held up. The underlying scientific studies expire five years after conducted. The revisions that have already been made even include those made by an independent panel of experts selected from the National Academies of Science as per regulation.
“Today, we demand that the Corps of Engineers live up to its responsibilities and make this Project a priority. We want solutions not obstacles. We have done our part,” said Pizarro.
She added that they are dismayed by the objections that have been presented by the Washington Office, as if the Corps were discovering now aspects of the Project that they have known from the beginning. The Corps has studied the Caño since 1978. She added that the head of the Corps of Engineers, Jo-Ellen Darcy, has visited the Caño twice, the last time on February of 2014 when she commented on an agency blog:
""On [this,] my second visit to Caño Martín Peña, I was reminded of the passion that the people living here have for restoring their own backyard," said Darcy.
In the same article the project manager, Jim Suggs, said, "This project is not only key to the environment, but to the health and well-being of the residents of the Caño." http://www.army.mil/article/121061/Agua_mala__bad_water___USACE__in_conjunction_with_ENLACE__work_to_improve_quality_of_life/
The Caño Martín Peña was between 200 and 400 feet wide and is currently clogged with sediments and debris. The state of the Caño threatens the health and safety of the residents and adjacent areas and seriously affects the rest of the San Juan Bay Estuary, the only tropical estuary of national significance recognized as such under EPA’s National Estuary Program. The environmental restoration of the Caño Martín Peña through its dredging and channelization will help protect critical infrastructure for Puerto Rico against climate change, such as Luis Muñoz Marín Airport, and will provide new opportunities for economic development and tourism. By reconnecting 61% of the Estuary, through the restoration produced by the dredging over 6,000 acres will benefit in ecological terms, providing a dramatic impact on plant, and aquatic life.
The G-8, Inc. is a non-profit organization that unites 12 grassroots groups representing the residents of the eight communities along the Caño Martín Peña. The eight communities are Israel - Bitumul, Parada 27, Las Monjas, Barrio Obrero San Ciprián y Oeste, Barrio Obrero Marina, Península de Cantera, Buena Vista Santurce y Buena Vista Hato Rey.