A large construction project in Los Tubos beach in northern Puerto Rico has been temporarily halted, thanks to the efforts of local environmental groups.
The beach, often frequented by surfers and divers because of its rich coral reef life and large swells, has been the site of a large development project since early November 2014. The construction, which consists of the expansion of the already large parking space, three hotels, in addition to a number of other larger structures, was not part of the original proposal according to independent coral reef investigator, environmentalist, and surfer Ricardo Laureano.
According to Laureano, the original project was to restore the existing gazebo-like structures on the beach. Instead Mayor Juan Aubín Cruz approved a larger project that requires further paving, and the building of new and larger structures, just yards away from the beach – all in an area that has been deemed ‘ecologically sensitive and in need of heavy conservation’ by the Planning Board under the zoning of resource conservation regulations of Puerto Rico.
However, according to the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources of Puerto Rico (DRNA in Spanish), which is addressing the complaint of the environmental groups, the construction has all the proper documentation to proceed with the project.
“It is the responsibility of the agents of the Managing Office of Permits to ensure that the build meets all requirements,” said Carmen M. Diaz, spokesperson for the DRNA. “During which time, the DRNA will keep in communication with their offices.”
Diaz also stressed that the case has not been closed.
To Laureano, who is also the spokesperson for the Group of Vegabajeños for the Development of a Sustainable Environment (known as Grupo V.I.D.A.S. in Spanish) this fight is far from over.
“Every day it seems like it’s an uphill battle,” Laureano said exclusively to The Good Men Project. “The biggest obstacle is the lack of scruples from politicians who bend the word ‘conservation’ to their benefit,” he added.
To members of Grupo V.I.D.A.S., who have been deemed as a Coral Reef Task Force by the United States government, as well as the Citizens for the Defense of the Environment and members of the group Toabajeños in Defense of the Environment, the concern about what the improper disposal of toxic material such as plastics, motor oil, and sedimentation, as well as other contaminants is palpable.
“We have been conducting a few ecologically restorative projects in this area, and there are a few things [going on with this construction] that is going to affect our work,”
said Laureano during a press conference at the outskirts of the construction site.
The corals that these groups are trying so hard to protect are the Acropora Palmata, or the Elkhorn Coral that has been deemed in critical conditions by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the areas of Florida, Puerto Rico, St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix. In addition to the corals, there is also endangered sea life, such as the Green Turtle, that live, mate, and lay eggs in Los Tubos.
“The concrete runoff [toward the ocean] will kill our work, because that sets in,” stressed Laureano. “In accordance to the plan, it was agreed that it would be only a restoration project of the already existing structures, a construction project that was eco-friendly,” he added.
As of January 7, Carmen Guerrero Pérez, secretary to the DRNA with the support of the director of the Managing Offices of Permits Alberto Lastra-Power issued a temporary cease and desist of any and all construction in Los Tubos under the of violation of rules and regulations of environmental conservation.
“We will not allow any construction projects, which do not comply with the required documents, to move forward,” said Lastra-Power. “While these projects could be for the benefit of the economic development of our country, they still have to comply with the laws, and environmental conservation should be an integral part of this development.”
Still, while it could seem a huge win for environmental protection, Laureano believes there is more fighting to come.
“We have a large group of volunteers on the look-out,” he said. “We have a lot more support than what we originally thought.”