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EPA, Puerto Rico Land Authority Announce Settlement to Improve Wetlands

Release Date: 08/05/2008
Contact Information: John Senn (212) 637-3667, senn.john@epa.gov or Brenda Reyes (787) 977-5869, reyes.brenda@epa.gov

(San Juan, P.R.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Puerto Rico Land Authority (PRLA) have reached a settlement that requires the creation of a task force to identify, monitor and protect wetlands in Puerto Rico in order to resolve a 2007 EPA complaint regarding Clean Water Act violations. According to the settlement, PRLA will also pay a $25,000 penalty and set up a $100,000 interest-bearing account, which will be used to establish a wetlands management program.

“The protection of wetlands continues to be a priority for EPA,” said EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg. “This far-reaching settlement will provide the necessary financial resources and political authority to create a Commonwealth-wide approach aimed at protecting thousands of acres of government owned wetlands and other environmentally-sensitive lands.”

The Governor of Puerto Rico will establish a task force comprising Commonwealth government agencies that will identify, inventory, monitor and protect wetlands and other environmentally-sensitive lands owned by the Commonwealth. This will be a supplemental environmental project or a SEP, which is an environmentally-beneficial project that an entity agrees to voluntarily perform in settlement of an enforcement action.

The settlement also requires that Puerto Rico place a conservation easement on at least 1,000 acres of land it owns to protect it from industrial and high-impact agricultural development. Additionally, PRLA will create an environmental outreach campaign, adopt a wetlands protection plan for its property and install physical barriers at certain wetlands.

The settlement resolves a September 2007 complaint issued by EPA alleging PRLA had violated the Clean Water Act by allowing wetlands to be filled without the appropriate permits. According to EPA’s complaint, PRLA allowed 1.8 acres of wetlands in the Canůvanas area of northeastern Puerto Rico to be developed for housing structures and dirt roads.

The Puerto Rico Land Authority owns, manages, sells and leases property, mostly agricultural lands, throughout the Commonwealth.

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.

For more information on EPA Region 2’s wetlands work, visit http://www.epa.gov/region02/water/wetlands/.

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