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700 Acres of Puerto Rico Wetlands Will Be Preserved Forever, Thanks to EPA

Release Date: 03/12/2007
Contact Information: Elias Rodriguez (212) 637-3664, rodriguez.elias@epa.gov or Brenda Reyes (787) 977-5869, reyes.brenda@epa.gov

(San Juan, P.R.) A series of agreements announced today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mark a victory for the people and environment of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Land Authority and the Puerto Rico Office of Special Communities have agreed to protect and preserve nearly 700 acres of wetlands critical to Puerto Rico’s environment and to pay fines totaling $55,000 for violating the Clean Water Act. The entities were cited by EPA for illegally filling wetlands to build hundreds of improperly constructed homes in an area subject to frequent flooding and unsafe conditions in San Isidro, a barrio of Canovanas. The Municipality of Canovanas also agreed to pay a $25,000 fine for its role in the illegal filling of the San Isidro wetlands.

"Wetlands are a vital part of Puerto Rico’s environment and it is of crucial importance that we do all we can to preserve and protect them,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “Through this settlement, EPA has helped permanently save a beautiful, natural area that might otherwise be eliminated in the future for residential or commercial development.”

Under various agreements between EPA, the commonwealth and the municipality, 679 acres of mangroves and marsh located on the east side of Piñones forest and to the west of the Loiza River will be permanently preserved. The tract was formerly owned by the Puerto Rico Land Authority, and ownership is being transferred to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust for preservation.

The penalties and the preservation of the 679 acres stem from a series of separate agreements with the agencies. For its failure to halt the illegal filling of the wetlands on its property in San Isidro, EPA is requiring the Puerto Rico Land Authority to pay penalties in the amount of $50,000 and enable the preservation of 345 acres out of the 679, costing the Land Authority $213,000 worth of property. For its part in supporting the illegal development, the Office of Special Communities will pay a penalty of $5,000 and enable the preservation of 39 acres of the wetlands, worth $24,000. For continuing to participate in the illegal filling of the wetlands in San Isidro despite being previously cited and fined, the Municipality of Canovanas will pay a penalty of $25,000. Also, to compensate for the loss of wetland in San Isidro over the past decade, the Puerto Rico Land Authority and the Office of Special Communities included an additional 300 acres of wetlands in the tract for preservation, bringing the total preservation to almost 700 acres.

Wetlands are a valuable resource that naturally filter chemical contaminants from our water and land and help control floods. Wetlands also nurture and sustain a vast array of bird, plant, aquatic and animal life. Damaging or eliminating wetlands can be devastating to the coastal ecosystem. Wetlands also provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, sites for research and education, and support fisheries. Anyone planning construction activities in wetlands or streams must contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers well in advance to obtain a permit.

To learn more about wetlands, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region02/water/wetlands

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