A group of residents from the communities along the Caño Martín Peña, led by leaders of the grassroots organization G-8, symbolically dredged the tidal channel by hand to call for urgent action by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on approval of the feasibility study required the channels environmental restoration.
“For over a year now, the Corps’ Headquarters in Washington DC has delayed the feasibility and environmental compliance process. They come up with argument after argument to avoid moving forward with the feasibility study approval,” said Carmen Pizarro, a member of the G-8, as the group moved toward the Corps’ office in Puerto Rico carrying eight buckets filled with contaminated sediments.
Through the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, Congress authorized $150M for the environmental restoration of the Caño Martín Peña, conditioned to the approval of a feasibility study prepared by the non-Federal interest, the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña.
Since then, ENLACE has invested $3M in scientific studies, including $350,000 transferred to the U.S. Corps of Engineers in 2012 so the federal agency could review the feasibility study and make it compliant with their standards.
In addition, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources has transferred $100,000 to the Corps for the same purpose. ENLACE worked very closely with the Corps’ Jacksonville District Office during the different phases of the feasibility study before it reached Headquarters.
“It has been almost eight years since WRDA 2007, and it is not until now, after a substantial investment of time and funds, that the Corps of Engineers is raising concerns that they could have identified from day one. We cannot wait any longer, nor can we allow the time and funds invested to go to waste,” said Mario Núñez Mercado, spokesperson for the G-8. “If this is not resolved soon, the base studies performed for the report will expire, and that would be a fatal blow to the Project.”
The Caño Martín Peña was between 200 and 400 feet wide and is currently clogged with sediments and debris. The environmental restoration of the Caño Martín Peña through its dredging and channelization will help protect critical infrastructure for Puerto Rico against climate change, such as Luis Muñoz Marín Airport, and will provide new opportunities for economic development and tourism.