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Puerto Rico Unveils Proposal For Use Of Vieques Western Lands

by Proviana Colon Diaz

May 15, 2000
Copyright © 2000 PuertoRicoWOW NEWS SERVICE. All Rights Reserved.

The Rossello administration on Friday unveiled a proposal on the use of 8,200 acres of land in the western side of Vieques scheduled to be returned by the Navy that includes conservation of the land and development of low impact tourism.

Planning Board President Jose Caballero held a press conference to announce that the proposal will be handed to the U.S. Navy on Monday, as provided for by the Jan. 31 President Clinton directives on Vieques.

But the proposal comes at a time when it is not clear whether the presidential directives will be backed up by the Republican-dominated Congress. Committees in both the U.S. House and Senate have approved amendments to resume the use of live bombs during Navy practices in Vieques and ban any development in the transferred lands.

Caballero, however, said he could not make a proposal "based on what might happen," and said he acted according to the directives.

The Planning Board proposal calls for 57% of the land to be allotted for conservation purposes, 32% for low-impact tourism, 4% for isolated tourism projects such as eco-tourism, and 6% for the development of a historical and commercial zone.

The Navy will keep 1% of the land, which is the area where part of the Relocatable Over-The-Horizon Radar is located.

Not included in the proposal are residential developments for the people of Vieques. Caballero said they do recommend more homes be built in the urban areas of the municipality, Isabel II and La Esperanza.

Caballero said the plan does guarantee that Vieques residents will get the best opportunities to develop the land before anyone outsiders do.

According to Caballero, the board took into consideration the case of Culebra and what happened once the Navy left. It the Culebra plan, the land was sold in blocks of 25 acres each.

"Obviously, the residents of Culebra were unable to buy 25 acres of land. That gave way for wealthy people from Puerto Rico, the U.S. and Europe to purchase land and build multi-million-dollar homes that are only used one month of the year," said Caballero, adding that the Vieques agreement will not include such a plan.

Meanwhile, Lilliane D. Lopez of the State Historic Preservation Office said the "minimum development" that has occurred in Vieques makes the area "the most important archeological laboratory of the Caribbean."

In the area, Columbian and Pre-Columbian, as well as colonial, artifacts have been found. Therefore, she recommends the area be conserved as a National Historic Landmark.

Military practices on the island were placed on hold following the accidental killing of civilian guard David Sanes by errant bombs during exercises.

After months of negotiations, Clinton and Gov. Pedro Rossello signed an agreement that called for the return of the 8,200 acres of land, a limitation in military exercises to only 90 days a year with inert ordinance only, and a referendum in which the residents of Vieques were to decide whether they wanted the Navy to continue bombing the island or whether they wanted it out by 2003.

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