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DNER Under Court Order To Produce Karst-Protection Plan By This Week

Plan three years late, undergoing review


December 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Under court order, the Department of Natural & Environmental Resources (DNER) had until yesterday to determine which areas of the island’s karsts will be set aside for conservation and which can be zoned for development or material extraction.

The DNER has already missed two deadlines for producing a karst conservation study, mandated by the Law for the Conservation of Karst Physiography of August 1999. Under an order issued Nov. 18 by a Superior Court in San Juan, the DNER has to determine by this week which areas will be protected, and must file the full study by the end of the year, said Luis Jorge Rivera of Citizens of the Karst (CDK by its Spanish acronym), the environmental group that had sued the DNER for failing to comply with the law.

"The study is finished and is in the review stage," said Maritza Santiago, DNER auxiliary administrator of Living Resources. Santiago said the DNER was to advise the court when the study was complete and continue the review process with other government agencies, including the Puerto Rico Planning Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The law originally set August 2001 as the deadline for delivering the study, which will serve as the basis for amending the DNER’s Regulation for the Extraction of Materials from the Earth’s Crust as well as for a Planning Board Zoning plan. After the department failed to meet that deadline, the CDK filed a mandamus in a San Juan Superior Court to force compliance from the agency.

In November 2003, the two parties reached an agreement setting a new deadline for compliance in September. When that deadline came and went, the court stepped in Nov. 18 to oblige the DNER to produce a least a determination of protected areas and areas open for exploitation, setting a deadline for the complete study, including recommendations on the new regulations’ wording, for the end of the year, said Rivera.

"The CDK recognizes all the hard work that the technicians and other employees from the DNER have undertaken to try and finish a good study of the karst region," said Rivera. "However, as often happens, these employees are underpaid and overworked, and the agency doesn’t provide them with the necessary resources to complete their assigned tasks." Rivera said the DNER didn’t give the karst issue appropriate priority but added that the entire process will be completed by May, including completion of the study and the two separate public hearings by the DNER and the Planning Board.

Karsts, irregular limestone formations, cover more than one-third of the island and provide water to aquifers that serve as water sources for 25% of Puerto Rico’s population, said Rivera. Coastal wetlands also depend on water from karsts.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the karst is divided into two major regions: the northern karst, which is mostly coastal, subtropical moist forest running roughly from San Juan to western Puerto Rico; and the smaller southern karst, a subtropical dry forest running along the southern coast from Ponce to the western end of the island.

The karst region of Puerto Rico contains the most extensive forest canopy cover and the richest biodiversity on the island. It is the habitat for most of the native and endemic species of wildlife, including more than 30 endangered species, according to the Fish & Wildlife Service.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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