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WOW News

Vieques Guidelines For Development: Pioneer Effort In PR

By Joanisabel Gonzalez-Velazquez de WOW News

July 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW News. All rights reserved. 

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series on the proposal by experts, environmentalists, and island municipality residents for the cleanup and development of Vieques.

For the first time in Puerto Rican planning history, a group of nearly 50 experts joined efforts and used the hydrographic basin as a geographic unit for planning purposes, developing a series of guidelines which if adopted, may result in the proper development of Vieques.

Using the hydrographic basin as a planning unit, provides a scientific base, allowing the design of projects and activities while considering their environmental impact on the ecological network. As a result, the initiative might set a benchmark for the application of this trend in Puerto Rico’s public policy on planning.

Moreover, the initiative integrated Isla Nena’s residents ideas and comments transforming it into a work plan that set the foundation for a $350 million sustainable development plan of Vieques.

"The greatest value of this initiative resides in its methodology. These guidelines were not designed by advisors or the government. The people of Vieques participated actively in the analysis, and we developed the guidelines with them," said planner Jose Rivera Santana, who oversaw the preparation of the guidelines along with Prof. Lilliana Cotto Morales.

Rivera Santana explained that, traditionally, the government has developed or endorsed plans related to infrastructure and economic projects in Puerto Rico. After these projects are conceptualized, they are proposed to citizens.

For years, planners and environmentalists on the island have insisted on changing public policy on planning, and advocated the use of these recent trends to achieve a better quality of life and manage the island’s limited natural resources properly.

Now, after the official transfer of the former firing range in Vieques, the people of Isla Nena may have the opportunity to promote the first sustainable development plan for a municipality in Puerto Rico, according to the planners.

"Guidelines for the Sustainable Development of Vieques" was developed by the Technical & Professional Support Group (TPSG), conformed by experts in planning, geography, architecture, health, economy and the environment. The document was completed in October 2002 and published in its entirety last January.

Rivera Santana and Cotto Morales headed the initiative, promoted by Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques (CPRDV), prior to the death of civilian officer David Sanes on April 19, 1999. Sanes’ death aroused concern among the general public over the adverse impact of the military maneuvers in Isla Nena.

Referring to the Guidelines, Vieques Commissioner Juan R. Fernandez said, "It is an excellent job conducted by a group of experts in all aspects of society. I think it presents everything that needs to be done in Vieques. They (his government peers) will have to convince me there is something better for Vieques than the guidelines if they want to implement something else."

"There was a latent concern among the people of Vieques about what would happen if one day the Navy abandoned its facilities at the island municipality," Rivera Santana noted.

So, Rivera Santana and Cotto embarked on a three-year agenda to create the guidelines. Experts such as planner Felix Aponte, former Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary Carlos Padin, economist Juan Lara, environmentalist Sara Peisch and Vieques Commissioner Juan R. Fernandez, among others, contributed to the effort.

The document presents 35 recommendations to develop manufacturing, tourism and renewable energy initiatives. It also makes a legal analysis of present laws and possible amendments to promote commerce, tourism activity, culture, and educational programs like archaeological research, museums, and hospitality management.

Proposals are supported by nearly 140 pages of historical data, demographics, economic indicators, and geographic and geological descriptions, as well as information about endangered species, contamination concerns and natural resources which are at risk.

The guidelines also propose the creation of a trust fund with community representation to manage the ownership of the land and identify more than 10 activities to promote jobs creation, housing construction, and the establishment of a health system based on education and preventive medicine.

According to Rivera Santana and Aponte, the initiatives will transform Vieques into a self-sufficient municipality with a lesser level of dependence on Isla Grande. The plan’s implementation costs are estimated at $350 million. Of that amount, the government is expected to invest $200 million and the private sector the remaining $150 million.

Rivera Santana expressed his desire that the Transition Committee on Vieques appointed by Governor Calderon should adopt the guidelines as part of its work plan, and said that some recommendations were adopted by the Tourism Co. and the municipal government of Vieques. He also noted, that Isla Nena’s residents had halted the first Vieques zoning plan promoted by the Planning Board using the guidelines to support their arguments.

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