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The Associated Press
Puerto Rico Sues To Halt Navy Bombing
By MANUEL ERNESTO RIVERA
April 25 2001
SAN JUAN -- Challenging the U.S. government, Puerto Rico's governor filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Navy to halt bombing exercises on Vieques island.
The Navy, which called the lawsuit a "grave development" in relations between the Navy and the U.S. territory, posted notices in Vieques saying maneuvers would resume Friday.
"The legal action that my government is taking responds directly to the need to . . . look out for the health and security of all Puerto Ricans," said Gov. Sila Calderon, adding that she regretted that the government was forced to take legal action.
The lawsuit comes from an anti-noise bill passed by the local legislature that prohibits loud noises along the island's shores. The local law cites the Noise Control Act of 1972, which allows states -- and in Puerto Rico's case, U.S. territories -- to set noise-control laws.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Washington, Calderon said. The plaintiffs are the Navy, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, acting Navy Secretary Robert Pirie, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark.
Calderon said she asked President Bush and Rumsfeld to permanently end the Navy exercises on Vieques. If they don't agree by today, the Puerto Rican government will seek a federal court injunction to stop this weekend's bombing, she said.
"The legal action filed in federal court today is a grave development in the relationship between the U.S. Navy and the commonwealth government," Navy spokesman Jeff Gordon said. "That said, the Navy is confident our training and presence in Vieques pose no health or safety risk to the civilian population on the island."
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said the Navy still plans training exercises on Vieques. He said he did not know what the Defense Department would do if an injunction were issued.
"We'll have to see what the final language of the legislation says and have our lawyers take a look at it and see what their advice is," Quigley said at a Washington news conference.
Opposition to the Navy's use of Vieques erupted after a jet dropped two errant bombs in 1999, killing a civilian Puerto Rican guard.
The Navy owns two-thirds of Vieques, and the bombing range covers 900 acres on the island's eastern tip. Bombing on the eastern part of Vieques has been suspended since March.