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EPA Takes Action to Correct Wetlands Violations In San Isidro

Release Date: 08/10/2005
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(#05092) San Juan, Puerto Rico After repeatedly demanding that the Municipality of Canovanas and the Puerto Rico government halt the filling of wetlands and the construction of about 200 homes in San Isidro, an area subject to frequent flooding and unsafe conditions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced it will seek penalties. The Agency has proposed a total of nearly $500,0000 in penalties against the Municipality of Canovanas, the Puerto Rico Land Authority (PRLA) and the Puerto Rico Office of Special Communities.

"EPA's action in San Isidro is necessary to ensure that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Municipality of Canovanas stop the filling and resolve the problem of people living in a flood area," said Walter Mugdan, Director of the EPA Region 2 Division of Environmental Planning and Protection. "Without this action, the wetlands will continue to be filled and developed and lives and property will continue to be endangered."

EPA is requiring the PRLA and the Office of Special Communities to either relocate the community from these wetlands or apply for a federal permit to rebuild the community at this location in a clean, safe manner, and in accordance with all federal laws. The agencies must also create a wetland preserve of approximately 300 acres to compensate for the areas that have been filled in the past few years.

For more than 5 years, EPA has tried to stop this development. The Agency has met with the Mayor of Canovanas, officials from the PRLA and the Governor’s office. EPA was assured on numerous occasions that a task force would be established to resolve the problem. Development has, however, continued in San Isidro and EPA is seeking penalties in order to get cooperation.

EPA is proposing a penalty of $295,000 for PRLA for failing to act to halt the filling of these wetlands for the past five years. The Municipality of Canovanas faces a $157,500 penalty for continuing to fill wetlands despite being previously cited and fined $23,000 by EPA. In addition, the Office of Special Communities could pay up to a $32,500 fine for its role in encouraging the development.

Wetlands are a valuable natural resource that naturally filter chemicals and other contaminants from our water and land and act as relief valves when it rains – helping control floods. Wetlands also nurture and sustain a vast array of bird, plant, aquatic and animal life. Damaging or eliminating wetlands can cause devastation up and down the food chain.

For more information about the importance of wetlands, please visit www.epa.gov/OWOW/wetlands/index.html.