El Nuevo Día (22 July 2018) reports that, Puerto Rico lost seven nature reserves on July 3, after Governor Ricardo Rosselló annulled their designation as protected areas; his Planning Board claimed that there were procedural flaws and lack of community participation. Through two executive orders, Rosselló rescinded the designation of natural reserve for Mar Chiquita, Finca Nolla [Nolla Farm, a seaside area in Camuy], Río Camuy [Camuy River], Humedal Playa Lucía [Lucia Beach Wetlands], Punta Cabuyones, Punta Guilarte, and Punta Petrona. Former Planning Board director Luis García Pelatti said that eliminating natural reserves “is nonsensical, and what lies behind are construction interests.” Very sad news. Here are excerpts from today’s article:
The designations were contained in seven sectoral plans, which are documents that specify the allowed uses in natural reserves. The sectoral plans had been approved in December 2016, the last month of Alejandro García Padilla’s administration. Rosselló invalidated them and repealed the executive orders that the former governor had signed for the creation of natural reserves.
Rosselló’s justification for nullifying the sectoral plans, and to repeal García Padilla’s executive orders was that, since they were adopted at the end of the year, when there was a change of government, “the process of adoption and approval was carried out in a hurried and hasty manner, causing serious problems for the implementation of these documents.”
In essence, the Board, chaired by María Gordillo, determined that the previous administration did not allow for enough citizen participation in the drafting of sectoral plans, led to conflicting uses of the lands, and used as a basis documents that are not the current state of law.
To that end, the agency recommended the annulment of the documents so that “they may be reevaluated and resubmitted” to get the governor’s signature.
In an interview with El Nuevo Día, Gordillo said the Board’s intention is to maintain the natural reserves, “but I cannot violate my own regulations and planning rules, which is, possibly, what happened now.”
In addition, she rejected the idea that the lands are vulnerable after Rosselló’s executive orders because the Land Use Plan [Plan de uso de terrenos (PUT)] classifies them as specially protected rural land. That classification, she said, “keeps the property as restricted as the adoption of a sectoral plan for nature reserve, which just gives it more specificity.” She stressed that the land is preserved by the classification district. The protection remains. The plan (PUT) has already established the potential of these sectors so that they will be preserved.”
Gordillo explained that García Padilla’s executive orders were “not a blank check” for the creation of natural reserves, but rather “a list of areas that merit preservation” and instructions to several agencies, such as the Board and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources [DRNA, in Spanish], so that they will “evaluate, take action, and give the corresponding due process.”
She added, “An expedited process will never replace the process that we must take according to the regulations or according to the land use plan (PUT). In my experience, where we have failed is in due process. That is why now we are more vigilant so that nobody can question the sectoral plans once they are adopted.”
According to Executive Order 2018-26, the Sector Plan for the Playa Lucía Wetlands Nature in Yabucoa exhibits “several conflicts” with the urban planning and urban districts that would be used as qualification for regulations with the Land Use Plan (PUT). For example, the districts “were not subjected to any environmental assessment” and are subject to the provisions of the 2015 Joint Permit Regulations, which were annulled by the Court of Appeals. [. . .] [Read original article for more details on regulations.]
[Former governor] García Padilla called Rosselló’s decision “very sad,” and he said, “It is typical of a far-right government that does not believe in the protection of natural resources.”
“It is not true that the processes were not followed. Otherwise, the citizens would not have applauded the news of the designation of the reserves. Simply, what is behind everything is the pressure from developers and campaign contributors, as also happens in right-wing governments,” said García Padilla.
The former governor said he was proud that, when he was sworn in in 2013, only 8% of the land on the island was protected and that, when he left the government mansion [La Fortaleza] the figure was 17%.
“The story that there was no participation is not believable, even by the person who wrote the executive orders to take to Governor Rosselló. There is no doubt that this is a matter of political ideology and developer interests. I predict a new, watered-down process,” said García Padilla.
Along those same lines, [former Planning Board director Luis] García Pelatti said that eliminating natural reserves “is nonsensical, and what lies behind are construction interests.” [. . .]
Contrary to what Gordillo stated, García Pelatti warned that, after Rosselló’s decision, the lands “are now vulnerable,” since the agencies, such as the Planning Board, the DRNA or the Land Administration, “are not obliged” to take protective action.
“The Use of Land Plan (PUT) does classify them as specially protected rural land, but the Board itself can modify the classification. The PUT is a live document. In the moment a nature reserve is declared, that modification has to be made by a special process, and that was the purpose of these designations. With a ‘nature reserve’ designation, we eliminate the possibility of developing projects,” he said. [. . .]
[Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For full article (in Spanish), see https://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/elgobiernodesarticulasietereservasnaturales-2436722/]