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Editorial & Column


Stop The Madness


November 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Our front-page story today goes a long way, we hope, toward setting the record straight on one of the most pressing issues facing Puerto Rico today and in the future: Unplanned construction all over the island is what’s killing our environment, not planned housing developments by responsible, regulated home developers that are always the target of criticism by environmental extremists and double-talking politicians.

Puerto Rico is bursting at the seams. With four million people, nearly 9,000 miles of roads, and 10,000 urban clusters in merely 3,500 square miles, the island ranks the 11th most densely populated place on earth.

And it will get worse. By 2025, the island’s population could reach six million, according to some estimates.

Where are all those people going to live?

Apparently in tree houses, if we were to follow the views of some environmental activists and politicians who have made a sport of targeting and knocking down every planned residential housing project, no matter how meritorious, how responsible, and how compliant with every single government regulation and permit required.

For a number of years now, developers of planned communities have been vilified as destroyers of the environment; their caricature is that of evil men who would stop at nothing to pour concrete into our green valleys and onto our white surf beaches in order to make a buck.

And yet, as our front-page story demonstrates, it is unregulated construction skidded out of control that has turned the island’s urban sprawl into an environmental and human safety nightmare.

Sixty percent–yes! 60%–of Puerto Rico’s homes are built as makeshift construction projects under certain laws that bypass or don’t require government regulation. This free-for-all development is the real threat to the island’s environment. The Legislature is as well aware of this as the Planning Board.

Drive around Puerto Rico and you’ll see it everywhere. Rich, poor, or middle class, they all build on their own parcels of land when they please and any which way they please.

And there’s no one to stop them. The simple lot segregation system, dating back to the 1950s, allows a person to build a residential or business structure without the need to hire an architect or engineer; without having to submit blueprints; with no potable water, wastewater, or electrical infrastructure in place; and using whatever materials are at hand without having to meet building codes.

Lacking sewage infrastructure, these unplanned developments are causing millions of gallons of wastewater, including human waste, to go into tens of thousands of septic tanks all over the island, thus doing more damage to our underground aquifers than the occasional spill by a business that may grab the news headlines for weeks.

The consequences of allowing this type of unplanned construction development was evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Georges in 1998, as these were the only structures that suffered significant damage.

Yet while developers of planned housing communities, who do obtain the more than 100 government permits required, are constantly decried as enemies of the environment, no politician wants to touch the issue of unplanned development with a 10-foot pole. They figure it would be political suicide to inconvenience a great mass of voters, while it is easier to go after the businesspeople and contractors, who are a voting minority.

But that attitude is more costly to taxpayers in the end. As well expressed by one of our sources, the fact that the government is investing $1 billion in the special communities project is proof positive that unplanned developments are more costly and their problems more difficult to solve than the alternative of planned housing developments, no matter how much environmental extremists want to scare us into thinking the island is being covered by concrete by these big, bad businesspeople.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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