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EPA Orders Developer to Restore Wetlands in Las Cucharillas and to Cease Further Construction of Industrial Park

Release Date: 05/06/2003
Contact Information:
(#03052) San Juan, P.R. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered a developer and a construction company to immediately remove material they improperly placed in a parcel of wetlands that is part of Puerto Rico’s 1,236-acre Las Cucharillas marsh, and to stop any new construction activities that might impact the wetlands. The companies – Mac Development Corporation (the managing partner of Bahia Park S.E.) and its contractor, Desuja Construction Corporation – plan to build a complex called Bahia Industrial Park on a 177-acre property that is partly in Las Cucharillas.

“EPA will continue to carefully review every project in Las Cucharillas to ensure that it does not cause any undue adverse effects to this valuable ecosystem,” said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator . “Companies should avoid building in wetlands. When they have no alternative, they must follow the letter of the law and take steps to get the necessary permits. If they don’t, we and our partners in wetlands protection will act.”

EPA is taking this action because development negatively impacts Las Cucharillas marsh, which contains the highest diversity of waterfowl in the San Juan Bay area and serves as an essential environmental filter for industrial and urban runoff from nearby populated areas. Las Cucharillas also provides important flood water storage for the communities of Puente Blanco, Las Cucharillas, Juana Matos and Reparto El Paraiso, which are located in a flood-prone area and are protected by the marsh.

Before filling a wetland, entities must first apply for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1999, Mac Development/Bahia Park S.E. applied for permit from the Corps to fill seven acres of wetlands to build Bahia Industrial Park in Las Cucharillas, in Palmas Ward, Catano. The Corps requested more information from the applicant, which was not submitted. This prompted the Corps to stop considering the application. In June 2002, the Corps discovered that the developer and Desuja Construction, without a permit, filled wetlands in Las Cucharillas with construction material. In September 2002, the Corps referred the case to EPA, which investigated the companies’ activities.

EPA recently issued an administrative order finding that Mac Development and Desuja Construction violated the Clean Water Act by discharging pollutants – in this case dredged and construction material – into waters of the U.S. without authorization. The order requires the companies to: break a cement channel that they had constructed and remove pieces of cement that had been placed in the wetlands; remove 400 feet of a 24" cement pipe (and the earth used to cover it) that was designed to funnel stormwater runoff from a neighboring residential community into Las Cucharillas; allow vegetation to naturally re-establish itself in the effected area; submit color photos to EPA showing that the work was done and; after removing the fill, submit progress reports and photos to EPA every six months for two years showing the vegetation’s growth and the wetland’s water levels. This work must be completed within 30 days.

Under a separate EPA order, Mac Development/Bahia Park S.E. and Desuja Construction must immediately stop any clearing, excavating or other construction activities at the Bahia Industrial Park. This is because the companies failed to respond to an EPA letter seeking information about why they did not apply for a stormwater permit, which is required when a company seeks to channel rainwater from streets and paved areas into waterbodies like creeks and wetlands. Within 15 days, the companies must respond to EPA’s letter and provide details of the construction project, including how they plan to limit contamination of stormwater coming from the proposed industrial park.

In addition to issuing this order, EPA reserves the right to seek a financial penalty from the companies for the violations.