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EPA Gets Tough

New Anti-Sediment Regulation Covers Construction Projects Of More Than One Acre


September 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

As of July 1, all construction projects in Puerto Rico that occupy more than one acre must have plans to prevent sediment from running into lakes, rivers, and streams. In the past, only projects of five acres or more had to meet this requirement of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"As development and construction continue to increase on the island, we must work even harder to preserve…Puerto Rico’s tropical habitat for ourselves and for generations to come," said EPA Regional Administrator Jane Kenny. "This is a major step forward in our efforts to protect Puerto Rico’s beautiful rivers and streams."

At least seven days before starting a project of an acre or more, construction companies must file with EPA’s Caribbean Environmental Protection Division in San Juan an application for coverage under a new National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Construction General Permit.

As part of the application process, construction companies must certify that they have a written stormwater-pollution prevention plan in place to prevent erosion and sedimentary runoff. The plan might include measures such as building a pond to hold runoff instead of allowing it to flow off the site, installing fences that prevent silt from leaving the property, and avoiding construction during the rainy season. Once construction nears completion, all applicants for the EPA permit must also install native plants where the soil has been disturbed.

Under the Endangered Species Act, operators of construction sites must also check with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to confirm that their sites won’t adversely affect the habitats of endangered animals, fish, or plants in Puerto Rico. Site operators might also need to consult with the National Historic Preservation Officer to ensure that no historic artifacts or structures will be harmed in the construction process. These consultations must be made before submitting an application to the EPA.

In 1990, Congress amended the federal Clean Water Act to require EPA’s regulation of stormwater discharges into bodies of water. These discharges occur when rain washes sediment, oil, chemicals, trash, and other material on the ground into lakes, rivers, and streams.

Construction projects are a significant source of sedimentary runoff because the soil at these sites is often disturbed and left in loose piles. When rain washes through the piles, it can carry large amounts of sediment into bodies of water. Over time, sedimentary runoff can reduce the depth of bodies of water and can jeopardize their ability to support aquatic life. Excess sediment can also increase the bacteria levels in drinking-water reservoirs and decrease the effectiveness of filtration plants.

Since the regulation went into effect in July, construction-industry representatives have declined to go on record about its impact on the industry. They have said only that it will increase the costs of smaller projects.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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