Puerto Rican society has been at war against deforestation initiated to build a Walgreens in the south of the island, in which the world’s largest concentration of these chain stores is recorded, The Costa Rica News reports.
The alarms went off in the early hours of last Saturday when neighbors of the urban forest El Samán in the city of Ponce, the second largest in Puerto Rico, sighted some workers cutting down several trees.
This alerted the Committee Friends of Trees (Coamar) who arrived at the place, stopped the felling and set up a camp to try to prevent some workers resuming to work.
In 2001 the responsibles of the Lorraine shop, which is opened since mor than thirty years with this surface and has about ninety employees, already challenged permissions of the felling at the area where it was intended to raise the eighth establishment of Walgreens in Ponce.
Walgreens has 118 establishments on the island, 45 more than in Oregon, for example, although this state is almost 28 times larger and both have similar populations.
According to a report released last month by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) of Puerto Rico, this island is a place of the U.S. and the rest of the world in which a higher concentration of local American chains like Walgreens and Walmart can be found.
The expansion of these chains has been given “,even while the government has an Office of Monopolistic Affairs, an agency attached to the Department of Justice that has so far failed to control the growth of Walgreens since it came to the Island in 1962 ” the report indicated.
Rolando Jimenez Emmanuelli, lawyer of Lorraine, today defended that Walgreens “has no permission” for pruning trees, which began to be cut during the weekend by local businesses and Coquí Lawn Pro Lawn Service.
“These companies creep like thieves in the night and begin to cut by force. The municipality of Ponce knows that they do not have the permission to cut,” explained Emmanuelli Jiménez.
The legal representative of the municipality of Ponce, Carmen Edith Torres, explained that originally the Office of Land Use Permits and the city revoked the permit to Walgreens for pruning trees, because they had not submitted all necessary documentation.
In April this year the Review Board of the Office of Permitting and Land Use of Ponce updated the authorization. Coamar asked for reconsideration but it was denied last Wednesday.
Torres criticized that pruning began in a “hasty” way, since the decision can be appealed to other courts.
“I have no authority to say whether it is illegal or not. The decision is under review and if one calls for liability against Walgreens, it will be done,” he noted.
Emmanuelli Jimenez announced more emphatically that the permit, Walgreens claims to have, “is not final and firm”, as any opposing party has the right to appeal to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme.
Furthermore, if these courts rejected the appeals, we should hold a public hearing in front of the City of Ponce.
In view of the protests of the neighbors and environmental protection associations, the Committee on Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs of the House of Representatives of the island held a public hearing on Thursday at the School of Law at the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, in Ponce.
The Commission, led by César Hernández Alfonzo, today invited to this hearing the neighbors, Coamar, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources ( DNER) of Puerto Rico, the General Permit Office of Ponce and Yolanda Benitez, the attorney of Walgreens.
“What we want to know is why the mutilation of trees happened, the process that was used and if the company indeed had permits to carry out the logging,” said Alfonzo Hernandez, of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and who also chairs the Committee on Agriculture of the chamber.
The legislator also expressed concern for the fact that constructions will be in this area, which has river drainages and therefore has a high risk of flooding.
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