Model Forest Office reorganization passed in Puerto Rico House
SAN JUAN — Without debate and amid opposition from minority representatives, the House passed Monday a Reorganization Plan to merge the Model Forest Office with the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER).
The Model Forest of Puerto Rico interconnects 19 protected areas, including Bosque del Pueblo, Toro Negro, Tres Picachos and La Olimpia throughout 378,777 acres of land from the north coast to the southern dry zone between Guánica and Cabo Rojo.
Concurrent Senate Resolution 33, which enables the approval of the plan will now be sent to the governor. According to the New Government Act, the legislature now has until the last day of the session in which the plan was presented, June 25, to approve the bill that lays the groundwork for executing the proposed reorganization.
The report accompanying the resolution highlights that the transfer of functions of the Model Forest Office Trust will represent savings of $300,000 in the first year and another $1.5 billion over the next five years.
Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Luis Vega maintained that the plan “limits some areas of autonomy that had been advanced.” He added that the proposal’s evaluation process was rushed because no public hearing was held.
“This is not the way to revert or discuss one of the most important environmental projects in the past years,” Vega stated.
PDP spokesman Rep. Rafael Hernández stressed that his caucus would vote against the resolution because it was approved “in a ghostly manner.” Questioned about whether he believes the savings expected in the measure were substantial, he replied that there are issues that should not be focused on the financial aspect.
“There are some lines one should not cross, and on issues such as this, to preserve natural resources, economic terms should not intervene. There is no way to quantify the value that this would have for the future if it were preserved in the way it should be preserved,” Hernández told Caribbean Business.
According to the approved plan, the DNER will have the task of implementing the office’s new public policy that—according to S.R. 805—”will exist until June 30, 2018.” It must also begin a consolidation process of transferring functions, “establishing parameters and operational guides.”
It also proposes the “outsourcing of the remaining functions of the Office of the Model Forest Trust.” The latter was created as a nonprofit entity to “serve as depositary and custodian of public and private funds that are allocated or received” for the development and operations of the Model Forest.
This is the first reorganization plan from the executive to be approved in the Legislative Assembly. The other four reorganization plans must be approved within 30 days of being introduced. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló presented the plans on Jan. 18.
The 2016 Model Forest Act‘s objective is to “recognize the ecological value” of the area “by declaring the Model Forest of Puerto Rico as a priority area for planning and a geographic sustainable development platform to promote criteria for management and conservation.”