Water Funds For San Juan Rejected For Second Time With Acevedo AWOL… "Approval" Of Roosevelt Roads Land Reuse Plan May Not Be Final

October 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Water Funds for San Juan Rejected for Second Time with Acevedo AWOL

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee recently rejected funding to improve the water system in the San Juan, Puerto Rico area.

The pointed rejection came when Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner in the U.S., Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth"/D), was in the territory campaigning for governor, contending that nothing important was happening in the Congress.

The funding was to be a special $4 million to help the water system meet public health standards.

The rejection is an especially embarrassing loss for Acevedo for four reasons.

  • One is that the Commonwealth had obtained the support of the administration of President George W. Bush for the grant.
  • Another is that the rejection came as the Committee voted to appropriate $655 million more for the water projects program that the $4 million was supposed to come from than the Bush Administration wanted.
  • A third is that Acevedo failed to obtain an $8 million grant for the project last year although the $8 million was also supported by the Bush Administration
  • Acevedo has failed to obtain tens of millions of dollars for projects funded out of regular water project grant program funds.

When Acevedo failed to obtain the $8 million for the San Juan area system water safety improvements, the Commonwealth’s governor, Sila Calderon, said that the territorial government would provide the funding for the essential work if necessary. Calderon is Acevedo’s political mentor.

Calderon’s statement led the federal agency that supported the funding, the Environmental Protection Agency, to suggest that the federal and territorial governments equally split the cost of the project.

The Bush Administration adopted the cost-sharing proposal in its budget for the fiscal year that began October 1st, fiscal year 2005. The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee accepted the proposal in September. Its Senate counterpart committee, however, rejected it a week later.

Acevedo, running second in the polls for governor, did not disclose the rejection to the public -- presuming he is aware of it.

"Approval" of Roosevelt Roads Land Reuse Plan May Not Be Final

The Calderon Administration unveiled its plan for the use of the 8,600 acres in Ceiba, PR of the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station this past Tuesday.

At the time, the head of Calderon’s "Local Redevelopment Authority" (LRA) for the unneeded federal property, Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Milton Segarra, suggested that the plan had obtained federal approval before it was made public.

An assistant director of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA), David MacKinnon, also made statements that were interpreted as corroborating Segarra’s claim.

The special federal legislation which closed the Roosevelt Roads base earlier this year provided for OEA to assist the territorial government in developing a plan for use of the land. But the plan has to be approved by the Secretary of the Navy.

An official source said that the Navy has not yet approved the Calderon plan.

The question of final approval is important since the Calderon plan is opposed by the candidates for governor and resident commissioner who are leading in the polls, the statehood party’s Pedro Rossello (D) and Luis Fortuno (R), and "commonwealth" party gubernatorial candidate and current resident commissioner Anibal Acevedo is a member of Calderon’s LRA.

If Rossello is elected, he will overturn the plan even if it is finally approved before he takes office. Fortuno will help him.

Rossello had previously proposed that the former naval base be converted into a commercial port among other developments. The focus of the Calderon/Segarra/Acevedo plan is to make the land into a tourist resort.

Once the largest naval base in terms of size outside the continental U.S., Roosevelt Roads was closed by order of the law providing funding for national defense programs for fiscal year 2004. The unusual statutory closure was enacted because the Navy felt that keeping the base open was a "waste of taxpayer dollars" in the words of a commanding admiral.

Roosevelt Roads’ primary mission had been to support amphibious landing combat training on the island of Vieques, PR., seven miles from Ceiba on the main island of Puerto Rico. The training ended this past May 1st.

A federal-Commonwealth agreement on ending the training had been worked out in 2000 under which it was expected that Roosevelt Roads would continue to operate. The agreement was negotiated by Calderon’s predecessor, Pedro Rossello (statehood/D), now the leading candidate to replace Calderon.

But Calderon and Acevedo refused to recognize the agreement, most of which had been approved of by the Congress in 2000, and Calderon broke key provisions.

Calderon’s actions in breaking the agreement led the Navy to conclude that it should not put more resources at risk in the territory. The closure of Roosevelt Roads is estimated to have deprived the territorial economy of spending of $300 million a year.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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