News Releases from Region 02
EPA Penalizes Puerto Rico Land Authority For Damaging Wetlands in Guanica
(New York, N.Y. – December 22, 2016) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached a legal settlement with the Puerto Rico Land Authority that resolves alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. In 2013 and 2014, the Land Authority filled and cleared land and vegetation in wetlands in Guánica, Puerto Rico, causing sediment to wash into adjacent waters, which include the Lajas Channel and the Rio Loco, damaging the wetlands and water quality. Both the Lajas Channel and the Rio Loco flow into Guánica Bay. The Land Authority will pay a $87,000 penalty.
“The Puerto Rico Land Authority has repeatedly ignored federal regulations that protect wetlands," said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. " Wetlands prevent flooding and are an important habitat for birds and wildlife. Wetlands can be thought of as biological supermarkets. They provide great volumes of food that attract many animal species.”
From September 2013 to June 2014, the Puerto Rico Land Authority used excavators and other heavy equipment to dig up and clear wetlands on the Finca Maria Antonia and the Finca Limón properties in the Cienaga Ward in Guánica. The excavation harmed approximately 60 acres of wetlands and indirectly damaged an additional 100 acres. The digging and clearing of land caused soil and sediment to wash into wetlands on the property and into the Loco River, which flows into Guánica Bay. The Land Authority performed this work without approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as required by the Clean Water Act.
The EPA works in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the states and territories to oversee and enforce wetlands regulations. Permit applications for actions which potentially impact wetlands are required by federal law. They are reviewed and issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Protection of Puerto Rico's water and coastal resources is not inherently in conflict with an increased use of the commonwealth’s land for agriculture. Puerto Rico’s year-round growing season, and its ability to reduce fuel consumption by growing agricultural products locally, makes the expansion of the agricultural sector very attractive. With proper planning, collaboration and a commitment to comply with the Clean Water Act, agriculture can be expanded in Puerto Rico in a sustainable manner. That, however, is not what happened in this case.
For more information on EPA’s work to protect wetlands, visit: https://www.epa.gov/wetlands