EPA, Puerto Rico Settlement to Improve Wetlands

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Puerto Rico Land Authority have reached a settlement that requires the creation of a task force to identify, monitor, and protect wetlands in Puerto Rico in order to resolve a 2007 EPA complaint regarding Clean Water Act violations.

According to the settlement, the authority will pay a $25,000 penalty and set up a $100,000 interest-bearing account, which will be used to establish a wetlands management program.

In an Aug. 5 press release, EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg said: "The protection of wetlands continues to be a priority for EPA. This far-reaching settlement will provide the necessary financial resources and political authority to create a Commonwealth-wide approach aimed at protecting thousands of acres of government owned wetlands and other environmentally sensitive lands."

The governor of Puerto Rico will establish a task force comprising Commonwealth government agencies that will identify, inventory, monitor, and protect wetlands and other environmentally sensitive lands owned by the Commonwealth. This will be a supplemental environmental project that an entity agrees to voluntarily perform in settlement of an enforcement action.

The settlement also requires that Puerto Rico place a conservation easement on at least 1,000 acres of land it owns to protect it from industrial and high-impact agricultural development. Additionally, the authority will create an environmental outreach campaign, adopt a wetlands protection plan for its property, and install physical barriers at certain wetlands.

The settlement resolves a September 2007 complaint issued by EPA alleging the Puerto Rico Land Authority had violated the Clean Water Act by allowing wetlands to be filled without the appropriate permits. According to the complaint, the authority allowed 1.8 acres of wetlands in the Canóvanas area of northeastern Puerto Rico to be developed for housing structures and dirt roads.

The authority owns, manages, sells, and leases property, mostly agricultural lands, throughout the Commonwealth.

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