State of the Beach/State Reports/PR
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Puerto Rico's Coastal Zone Management Program is making progress in identifying and addressing issues such as beach access, erosion, beach ecology, and control of nonpoint source pollution despite having limited financial resources. An ecologically important coastal area at Rincon has been saved from an environmentally damaging development project and a Reserva Marina Tres Palmas de Rincón has been established in this area. But severe development pressure and weather events still threaten this island community, and continue to be exacerbated by climate change. The 2017 Hurricane Mara ravaged the island, and released unprecedented levels of rainfall, a trend that many fear will continue. More robust policies are critical to protect this island's spectacular resources, the millions of people living in flood zones, and the several hundred miles of surfable coastline.
(+) The Coastal Zone Management Program website provides information on beach access. The beach access link leads to an inventory of swimming beaches, a Beach Access Guide and a series of links to very nice color brochures for 10 beaches.
(+) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded nearly $72 million to Puerto Rico through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This infusion of money will help the commonwealth and local governments finance overdue improvements to wastewater and drinking water systems and conduct water quality planning.
(+) The Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) entered into a land acquisition agreement in March 2007 that will protect a large area of land on the northeast coast. On October 4, 2007, Governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila signed an executive order to establish a 3,240-acre natural reserve to effectively protect all the lands in the Northeast Ecological Corridor. This land has high natural and ecological values and is adjacent to the largest mangrove lagoon in Puerto Rico: the Piñones Natural Reserve. Unfortunately, the NEC is in danger once again. Disregarding the NEC's extraordinary natural value and historical conservation efforts, the recently elected Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Luis G. Fortuño, is considering ELIMINATING the NEC to make way for the construction of residential and tourism projects in the area.
(+) OCRM and USEPA fully approved Puerto Rico’s Coastal Nonpoint Program (CNP) in 2000, making it the first program approval for a U.S. island territory and fourth overall in the nation.
(+) NOAA/OCRM noted in their most recent review of Puerto Rico's Coastal Program: "PRCMP consistently worked to improve public access to Puerto Rico’s coastal waters by: (1) developing excellent public access inventories and brochures; (2) designing and installing standardized public access signs; and (3) initiating projects such as dune walkovers on popular beaches."
(+) In theory, Puerto Ricans have enjoyed "public domain" access to beaches and waterways since Spain enacted the 1886 Law of Ports for the Island of Puerto Rico.
(+) Puerto Rico and the four main offshore islands of Vieques, Culebra, Mona, and Desecheo have over 1000 miles of surfable coastline.
(0) Sea level forecasts for Puerto Rico are plus one meter by 2100.
(-) Despite existing regulations, coastal development projects do not always include a public access component. Additionally, some development projects that retain actual physical access to the coast incorporate perceived barriers to access, such as gates or guards. The relative ease with which developers are able to ignore public access requirements points to the need for improved enforcement.
(-) The coastal permitting process and enforcement efforts in Puerto Rico do not always achieve the intent of land-use regulations. As a result, construction projects have been permitted in high-risk flood areas.
(-) Two major hotel chains are planning to build coastal resorts along the undeveloped northeast coast of Puerto Rico.
(-) In June 2006 the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) entered into an agreement to plead guilty to an indictment charging 15 felony counts of violating the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) through the illegal discharge of pollutants from nine sanitary wastewater treatment plants and five drinking water treatment plants. PRASA will pay $10 million in criminal and civil fines—the largest fine ever paid by a utility for violating the CWA. In addition, a comprehensive civil settlement was reached between PRASA and the USA resolving repeated environmental violations at 61 wastewater treatment plants throughout the Commonwealth. PRASA will spend $1.7 billion for capital improvement projects and other remedial measures at all of its 61 wastewater treatment plants and related collection systems over the next 15 years.
(-) Fewer than half of the homes of Puerto Rico's 4 million residents are hooked up to sewage treatment plants or septic systems.
(-) The US EPA has granted several 301(h) waivers to sewage treatment plants in Puerto Rico, allowing discharge to the ocean of partially-treated sewage
- Keep Beaches Public in Puerto Rico The Rincón Chapter joined other local NGOs to fight a bad bill (Senate Bill 1621) that would in effect forgive and legalize private encroachment of development into the public beach. Surfrider Rincón joined a massive island-wide online petition drive and letter writing campaign by coalitions in the scientific, academic and environmental NGO communities to protest Senate Bill 1621. If this legislation was enacted, it would have in effect forgiven and legalized private encroachment on to the public beaches of southern PR, making it difficult if not impossible for the public to continue to use, access and protect the public beach. The Governor's Veto of this bill is a stand against privatization of the beach and a strong action in support of continued support for the public's right to continue to access, enjoy and protect our ocean, waves and beaches.
- Rincoeños Stop Condos and Save Beach Access in PR Local fisherman, citizens and the Rincón Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation stopped the construction of a condominium complex on the beach at the marina next to the Black Eagle in Rincón, PR. This project threatened to further privatize Rincón's coastline and reduce public access to the beach. The area is also traditionally used by local fishermen. Following years of legal and administrative battles, the project permit was "paralyzed" indefinitely by ARPE (permitting agency) on February 22, 2008 because the project is located in a flood zone and the developers failed to disclose this detail or observe the required setback requirements. The Appellate Court required a review of the location of the seaward line of the maritime zone – boundary of the public beach with the land. The Department of Natural Resources (DRNA) completed its survey of the maritime zone on March 11th. The impact of this new survey is that the fence surrounding the project site is illegal and must be removed reopening the traditional beach access that had been closed by the developers. The project must also be redesigned to be outside the maritime zone and must include a new environmental impact statement given the projects close proximity to Elkhorn coral reefs and the Reserva Marina Tres Palmas.
- Puerto Rico’s Northeastern Ecological Corridor Saved As part of the Coalicíon Pro Corredor Ecológico Del Noreste and following the lead of Luis Jorge Rivera of the Initiative for Sustainable Development, the Surfrider Foundation was successful in protecting a wave-rich ecological gem from being destroyed by mega-resorts when the Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, signed an executive order establishing as public policy the designation of the Northeastern Ecological Corridor as a nature reserve.
- Reserva Marina Tres Palmas Created Successfully concluding a 3-year campaign by the Rincón Chapter, Puerto Rican Governor Sila M. Calderon Serra endorsed bill "P. de la C. 2983" to create Reserva Marina Tres Palmas de Rincón in Puerto Rico. The law will establish a marine reserve in the Tres Palmas area of Rincón and devotes $100,000 for the development of a management plan for the marine reserve.
- Corps action against illegal creek fill in Rincon, PR Local residents in Rincon joined with Surfrider Foundation to file complaints against a developer for construction of a beachfront apartment complex at Sandy Beach. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers then issued a cease and desist order to Wilfredo Vilá Suro, developer of the Sandy Beach Apartments, for violating section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
To see all of Surfrider Foundation's coastal victories and campaigns, go here.
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