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Vieques, Culebra Cleanup On List Of National Priorities… EPA To Take Action Against Prasa…Federal Funds For UT Could Be Frozen… Medicare Drug Plan Won’t Aid Many Health Reform Patients…Vieques Activist Gets Prison Term…Poll Reveals Little Trust In The Legislature

Vieques, Culebra Cleanup Included In List Of National Priorities

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

December 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

Gov. Sila Calderon announced Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted the local government’s request that Vieques, Culebra and the surrounding waters be included in the list of national priorities.

This means the federal government will be in charge of the cleanup of that sector under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

"Today is a day of joy for us and particularly for the families of Vieques and Culebra," the governor said during a press conference held at La Fortaleza with Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda, Natural & Environmental Resources Secretary Luis Enrique Rodriguez, Environmental Quality Board Chairman Esteban Mujica, Mayor Damaso Serrano of Vieques, and Mayor Ivan Romero of Culebra.

Calderon added she expects that the federal government will advise the U.S. Congress next year how much money the Department of Defense will need for the cleanup, which may take years to complete, she said.

However, the governor noted that the local government has already began a cleanup of several areas in Vieques in coordination with the EPA.

"The important thing here is that the process took place; that we had the initiative and total success in having the EPA accept all our delimitations and that this is something historical," Calderon told the press.

The governor added that there aren’t official estimates of the amount of money that could be allocated, but the local government said the numbers that have been unofficially discussed fluctuate between $100 million and $300 million.

Meanwhile, the mayors of Vieques and Culebra expressed satisfaction with the announcement.

"I sincerely feel very content and pleased with this achievement," Serrano said.

"I think the important thing here is the justice that has been done for Vieques and Culebra," added Romero.

Although the military left Culebra 35 years ago, the EPA has included it in what it is known as the Vieques–Culebra Superfund Site or the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Area.

In the future, the areas to be cleaned in Vieques will be used mostly as a nature reserve, but Rodriguez said the local government would seek to open the areas to camping.

The areas included in the site are:

  • the eastern area of Vieques, its surrounding keys and waters;
  • several areas of the western side of Vieques, including several portions of beaches and waters;
  • the waters included in three zones identified as explosive areas in the Coast Guard map;
  • the Flamingo peninsula of Culebra (excluding Flamingo Beach) and the area known as Mortar Range in the center of that municipality;
  • the keys and the surrounding areas in Culebra that were affected by the activity of the Department of Defense; and
  • up to three nautical miles around Culebra known as a danger area.

EPA To Take Action Against Prasa

December 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny confirmed that action will be taken against the Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) for operational and maintenance problems at the island’s water treatment plants.

"There are problems, and we need to issue clear orders for them to comply," Kenny said in published reports.

Kenny declined to offer an opinion regarding the quality of the service and whether it has been affected by the controversy regarding Prasa and its administrator, Ondeo.

Contract issues must be resolved, Kenny said, but the EPA will continue to supervise Prasa, which has the permits for the operation of the treatment plants.

DTPW Acknowledges Possibility Of Frozen Funds At Urban Train

December 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Department of Transportation & Public Works (DTPW) Secretary Fernando Fagundo acknowledged that the federal probe into the changes of orders during the construction of the Urban Train could result in a freeze of millions of dollars in federal funds.

However, he said he was confident that his agency will be able to prove that there was a need to change the orders to expedite the construction.

The Federal Transportation Administration and the Inspector General’s Office are investigating the disbursement of federal funds in the train’s construction.

"At one time, we saw that the process of evaluating changes of orders was not working; decisions were not being taken. The contractors were exasperated because they were not being paid. Ricardo Alvarez [former manager of the Urban Train] then established other mechanisms that he understood expedited the process, which the federal government later did not like," Fagundo said in published reports.

Fagundo again criticized the main contractor of the Urban Train, Siemens, indicating that he has observed signs that the inaugural date for the system will have to be postponed again.

He said if the contractor "worked as they should," the train would be able to be inaugurated in January.

Movement Of Reform Patients To New Medicare Not Foreseen

December 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — The 232,000 elderly people who are part of the health reform and also registered in Medicare could disregard Medicare’s new prescription medicine plan, which should begin in January 2006, according to estimates by Health Insurance Administration Director Enrique Vicens that appeared Thursday in published reports.

Vicens said Puerto Rico’s health reform does not require the payment of deductibles for medicines or a monthly fee, as does the new Medicare plan, which is expected to be approved by President George W. Bush next week.

Vicens’ projections show that 320,000 other patients who don’t qualify for the Puerto Rican plan because their income is greater than $800 a month may benefit from the Medicare plan, which has an initial cost of $35 a month and an annual deductible of $250.

It is estimated that 550,000 people in Puerto Rico are covered by Medicare, which was established for people who are disabled and/or over 65 years of age.

Vieques Anti-Navy Demonstrator Sentenced To Prison

December 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — One of 12 people convicted of destroying federal property on the day the U.S. Navy withdrew from Vieques was sentenced on Thursday to eight months in prison, and another three activists were sentenced to probation.

Jesus Guillard’s defense attorney Luis Guzman, however, said he would appeal the sentence because the socio-penal technician had recommended probation.

Teachers Federation President Jesus Delgado was sentenced to two years’ probation. Manuel Perez Santiago and Nilda Medina will serve one year each.

Another seven demonstrators were awaiting sentencing as of press time Thursday. The only activist who didn’t plead guilty, Jose Velez, will be sentenced next week.

The incidents for which the demonstrators were convicted occurred May 1, the day the Navy withdrew from Vieques after almost six decades of conducting military exercises on the island.

Poll Reveals Poor Trust In The Legislature

December 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – 80% of Puerto Rico voters asked said can’t see any beneficial achievements by the Legislature.

The poll was ordered by the Chamber of the Food Marketing & Distribution Industry (MIDA by its Spanish acronym).

When asked how much trust they had in the Legislature, 89% of the 1,060 persons interviewed by telephone said "some" or "none."

In addition 68% of those polled said they would prefer to have part-time legislators.

The poll, conducted by Research and Research, has a 3% margin of error.

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