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Release Date: 09/13/2000
MUNICIPALITY OF TOA BAJA PENALIZED $5000 FOR FILLING WETLANDS DURING ROAD PROJECT
San Juan, Puerto Rico – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reminding towns and municipalities to make sure that they have proper authorization before undertaking construction projects that might impact even small tracts of wetlands, or they could face monetary penalties. The Municipality of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, has paid a $5,000 penalty for filling wetlands without prior authorization during a road project. In 1999, Cidra Excavation, under contract to the Municipality of Toa Baja, began construction of a road crossing, including culverts, over a wetland tributary that flows into Campanero Channel in Sabana Seca ward. The area was covered with dirt and gravel and cement headwalls were also installed. This type of construction, in which dirt, gravel, cement, or similar materials are put into wetlands, requires prior approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In this case, the Municipality could have obtained a letter of authorization to proceed from the Corps of Engineers before starting construction. It did not, and the Corps stopped the project and referred the matter to EPA. EPA can assess civil administrative penalties up to $137,500 for wetlands violations. The Agency only assessed a $5,000 penalty for this violation because the environmental harm was minor and the work could qualify for authorization. It is expected that the Municipality will be allowed to complete the construction after the penalty is paid.
Wetlands provide a multitude of benefits including flood and storm protection; erosion and sedimentation control; water quality maintenance and improvement, and fish and wildlife habitat. Losing or degrading wetlands can lead to serious consequences, such as increased flooding, extinction of species, and decline in water quality. Further information about the importance of wetlands, and the Federal laws protecting them, can be found on the EPA’s web page at http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/. Anyone planning construction in wetlands or waterways, including all freshwater or tidal marshes, swamps, salt flats, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, channels, bays, or the sea or ocean should contact the Corps of Engineers in advance regarding permit requirements. Information about applying for wetlands permits from the Corps of Engineers can be found at http://www.usace.army.mil/inet/functions/cw/cecwo/reg/.