Caño Martín Peña Project Moves Forward After Key Decision by Army for Civil Works
SAN JUAN— The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Work, Jo-Ellen Darcy, signed a record of decision on Wednesday approving the feasibility report and environmental impact statement for the Caño Martin Peña project in San Juan, which includes dredging 2.2 miles of the tidal channel.
“This record of decision confirms that the Caño Martin Peña Ecosystem Restoration project will move forward into the preconstruction, engineering and design phase,” Darcy said. “We are making a commitment to the people of Caño Martin Peña that we will work together to restore a clean water flow and make the Caño healthy again.”
The project plans to uplift over 6,600 acres of the San Juan Bay Estuary, and improve living conditions for over 25,000 people who live along the obstructed Martín Peña channel and endure frequent floods with raw sewage. Residents devised a community land trust, recipient of the 2015-16 United Nations World Habitat Award, to prevent gentrification as an unintended result of the ecosystem restoration project.
“The approval of the report is a major step in our struggle for human rights, environmental justice, safe and healthy living conditions for the thousands of residents in our neighborhoods,” said Carmen Febres Alméstica, from the grassroots G-8.
In turn, Lyvia N. Rodríguez, Executive Director of the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña, noted that: “The communities along the Caño, although marginalized for decades, exemplify what Puerto Rico can achieve even under dire conditions, through participatory democracy, the backing of strategic partnerships, and inspired by a common vision.”
The Caño Martín Peña is a 3.5-mile long natural tidal channel located in the heart of the San Juan Bay Estuary that provides a vital connection between the San Juan Bay and the San José Lagoon. The accumulation of debris and the encroachment of housing and other structures has prevented water from flowing properly through the canal. As a result, untreated sewage that enters the canal cannot be flushed out and heavy rainfall causes this contaminated water to infiltrate adjacent communities, posing serious health threats to residents.
Without federal assistance, it is expected that the Caño Martín Peña would continue to deteriorate, resulting in a complete blockage of the canal. This would severely impact the entire San Juan Bay Estuary ecosystem, with impacts to people’s health, the degradation of water quality and fish and wildlife habitats throughout the San Juan Bay Estuary.
Other than significant environmental and public health benefits, the project will make the adjoining communities and the city more resilient to the effects of climate change. Economic benefits include reduced vulnerability for the Island’s most important international airport, new tourism opportunities and natural recreational areas.
“Thousands of people in San Juan are exposed to flood waters that contain raw sewage even after modest rain storms. As climate change brings more intense storms to Puerto Rico, it is imperative that this dredging project gets done. Dredging the Caño is a commitment to resiliency, clean water, public health protection and job creation. Congratulations to the Army Corps of Engineers and ENLACE for finalizing this report; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands ready to support this resiliency project,” said Judith Enck, EPA Regional Administrator.
In 2007, the United States Congress authorized the Secretary of the Army to carry out the Caño Martín Peña Ecosystem Restoration Project pending approval of the feasibility report. Working together with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the US Army Corps of Engineers, ENLACE invested $3 million over the past four years in developing the feasibility report. The process included strong community engagement and participation of local and federal agencies, and experts from universities and non-profits.
According to the feasibility report, the project total cost is of $221 million, of which $142.7 million are federal funds to be appropriated yearly by Congress. The US Army Corps of Engineers has already committed $650,000 during this fiscal year for project design, and another $750,000 were included in the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2016-17.
The ecosystem restoration project is part of a comprehensive development plan for the area, whose critical aspects involve a $600 million total investment in addition to the over $120 million already invested by Puerto Rico. The funding sources for over half of the total cost have been identified, although not fully secured.