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EPA Selects UMET’s School of Environmental Affairs for $250,000 Award to Promote Smart Growth

Release Date: 05/02/2000
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(#00076) New York, N.Y. -- The School of Environmental Affairs of the Universidad Metropolitan (UMET) has been selected for a federal Sustainable Development Challenge Grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency announced today.   UMET was among only 27 grantees chosen by EPA from a national pool of nearly a thousand applicants. The award of $249,880 is for an innovative project to create awareness among decision makers and the public of the smart growth alternatives to traditional land use and urban development patterns in Puerto Rico that have adversely affected communities and the environment. Smart growth links development decisions with a community's well-being and quality of life and promotes development that makes environmental and economic sense.

The federal Sustainable Development Challenge Grant Program, a nationally competitive grant program that began in 1996, provides seed money to encourage citizens, non-profits, local governments and businesses to collectively develop creative approaches to local environmental problems and at the same time, build healthy communities.

"We are very pleased to assist UMET with this project and look forward to seeing the positive results of its work," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Administrator for Region 2.  "Smart growth helps sustain the environment and the very quality of our day-to-day lives."

The School of Environmental Affairs will focus on smart growth awareness in the San Juan metropolitan area during the first two phases of its project and among communities, municipal leaders, schools, professional associations and other constituencies island-wide in its last phase.  Urban sprawl and  development projects in the coastal plains of the island have irreversibly damaged coastal ecosystems that include estuaries, lagoons, mangroves and  wetlands, and have affected marine life. Both practices have contributed to flooding in coastal urban areas and communities close to rivers, the loss of green space and wildlife habitats, as well as increased water, air and land pollution and soil erosion. Higher infrastructure maintenance and transportation costs and the displacement of traditional communities are other unwanted byproducts of urban sprawl.

Smart growth provides for realistic and viable alternatives to urban sprawl. Its benefits include the revitalization of inner cities and the redevelopment of brownfields (where the taint of contamination hinders development) to bring back jobs and economic prosperity to city centers. Smart growth promotes the efficient use of land for housing and expanded and improved public transit. It can further protect parks, open spaces, agricultural lands and important natural reserves through proper zoning laws.

The mix of partners working on this project is exactly the kind of collaboration the Sustainable Development grant program seeks to support, Ms. Fox pointed out. The community and academic partners on this project include Citizens To the Rescue of Caimito, the Caribbean Environment and Development Institute and UMET's Institute of   Environmental Education. Partners in government include the Office of Special Communities of the Municipality of San Juan, Senator Kenneth McClintock, Chairperson of the Council of State Governments and architect Edward Underwood Rios, City Council Member of the Municipality of San Juan. The private firms and professional organizations involved in the project are the American Institute of Architects (Puerto Rico Chapter), the Association of Architects and Landscape Architects of Puerto Rico, Underwood Architects and Estudios Tecnicos, Inc.

But these Sustainable Development Challenge Grants are just the first step. As part of this Administration's Livable Communities Initiative, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have proposed a tool to help communities finish the job. And that tool is Better American Bonds. With Better America Bonds, state and local governments would be able to issue $10.75 billion in bonds to clean up brownfields, preserve open space, and protect water quality. The municipalities pay nothing in interest and can wait 15  years before paying back the principal. Investors who buy the bonds receive tax credits equal to the interest they would receive on the bonds -- a total of $700 million annually.

"The grant we're announcing today and Better America Bonds will help the Puerto Rico community take steps to become a better place to live, work, learn and play," Ms. Fox explained.  "The communities will build this legacy themselves. With community grants and Better America Bonds we're just handing them the tools they have told us they need," she noted.

A full description of the UMET grant and the 27 other new projects are available on the Internet at: