More bad news for Culebra’s few remaining Leatherback Sea Turtle populations

More horrible news for Culebra’s (and the world’s!) Leatherback turtles…..thanks to our friends at CORALations.org for sharing the article with us. The Government of Puerto Rico just doesn’t seem to understand how destructive this is for not only the Leatherback’s in Puerto Rico and Culebra’s waters, but worldwide….so incredibly sad, on so many levels.

Appellate decision could open NEC to construction

Leatherback Turtle Hatchlings

Leatherback Turtle Hatchlings

January 20, 2010
by Xavira Neggers Crescioni
xneggers@prdailysun.net

The Appellate Court has dismissed a lawsuit the developers of Dos Mares Resort filed against the commonwealth after then-Gov. Acevedo Vilá issued an executive order in 2007 setting aside 3,107 acres of pristine coastline and adjacent wetlands in Río Grande and Luquillo for conservation.

In its suit, the company claimed the creation of the Northeastern Ecological Corridor deprived them of the right to enjoy their property without due process of law. For years, Dos Mares has been attempting to build 3,000 housing units, a 400-room hotel, and an 18-hole golf course on some 400 acres inside the NEC.

The Appellate Court used the lands’ current legal limbo to dismiss the developer’s suit, saying in its decision Jan. 15: “Since executive orders OE-2007-37 and OE-2008-22 have been nullified by executive order OE-2009-42, the restrictions placed on the development of the lands immediately disappeared turning the pre-existing controversy into an academic matter. There is no other course of action but to dismiss the suit since it has become academic.”

Under OE-2009-42 last Oct. 30, Gov. Fortuño rescinded the order creating the NEC saying it contained legal gaps that needed to be resolved. The governor said his executive order called for a smaller nature reserve, with the difference being plans to use lands close to PR-3 to develop a highway.

At the time, Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary Daniel Pagán and Planning Board President Héctor Morales Vargas justified nixing the NEC as a nature reserve saying legal changes were needed because the reserve was approved without public hearings or a management plan for the area and land owners were not informed of the change in zoning.

The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. owns more than half of these lands, while 1,262 acres are privately owned.

Development unclear

Whether or not Dos Mares is free to begin construction of a mega-tourism complex inside the NEC remains unclear under the Appellate Court’s decision, because Fortuño’s executive order places a moratorium on all development until the Planning Board officially designates the new Northeastern Ecological Corridor, Planning Board spokesman Tulio Endi Gómez said Tuesday.

This week, the Planning Board expects to receive a report from the DNER as to which lands are environmentally sensitive and which can be zoned for other limited uses, such as ecotourism, he said.

Once the agency receives this information it will issue a land-use plan for the area and plans to hold public hearings in mid-February. Once the public hearings are over, the agency will issue its final land-use plan for the site by March 31 and officially designate the lands that will make up the NEC, Endi Gómez said.

He said the new NEC will protect river basins and coral reefs.

While Fortuño and other officials have said that limited tourism projects could be considered for the area, what in fact is in the pipeline are mammoth, luxury residential projects, Luis Jorge Herrera, from the Initiative for Sustainable Development and the Coalition for the NEC, has said.

Besides Dos Mares, other mammoth projects in the works include San Miguel Resort, which calls for 1,025 residences, a 250-room hotel with casino, 175 time-share units, and 18-hole and nine-hole golf courses.
As plans now stand, a 229,092 square-foot shopping center called Playa Azul Center is also in the pipeline for the NEC, Herrera said.

This is yet another chapter in the longstanding struggle over how much development to allow on the 3,107 acres that are the third most important leatherback turtle nesting site in the U.S.

The matter has been under discussion for more than 30 years: Gov. Rafael Hernández Colón first toyed with the idea of conserving the site, but declined to do so. Former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, with Fortuño then as Tourism Secretary, then designated the lands as a hub for tourism development and subsequently Gov. Sila María Calderón granted the long-term lease contract of Pridco lands to Dos Mares, which was nixed when Acevedo Vilá designated the area as a nature reserve.

Prior to running for governor, Fortuño opposed establishing the NEC, and denied his previous opposition to the nature reserve during one of the gubernatorial debates. Fortuño revised his stance on the NEC during his run for governor based on the widespread international and local support for conserving the entire area.

http://www.prdailysun.com/news/Appellate-decision-could-open-NEC-to-construction

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