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Gov. Promises To Address Status Issue In 2005… Vieques Inclusion On Superfund List "Imminent"… EPA Fines Martex Farms Over $400k…O'Neill: NPP Going Through "Difficult" Time… Wal-Mart Delivers Environmental Plan… New Bills Would Boost City Finances… Smokers’ Workplace Rights Unprotected… Slower Economic Growth Forecast

Gov. Promises To Address Status Issue In 2005

February 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila said Thursday that he will begin to address the issue of political status this year and expressed confidence that there will be progress in the discussion about the relationship of Puerto Rico and the United States.

Acevedo Vila warned that it must be the people that choose the process to direct the status discussion, and denied that some politicians intend to torpedo this initiative.

"I reaffirm my commitment to address this issue this year and the way in which I promised to do it is to put it in the hands of the people," the governor said at a press conference.

"I think that this is the correct way to address it, especially when we are in a co-government. I am confident that we will see progress," he said.

Inclusion Of Vieques On Superfund List Is "Imminent"

February 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The inclusion of Vieques on the list of Superfund priority sites is "imminent" in the next few weeks, the interim EPA director for region 2, Kathleen Callahan, said Thursday.

Callahan and the EPA director for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, Carl Soderberg, said the federal agency had already begun work to clean the west region of Vieques and has initiated studies about contamination in the east, where a U.S. Navy shooting range was located for decades.

"The inclusion of Vieques on the priorities list is imminent … I think within weeks," Callahan said at a press conference at La Fortaleza after meeting with Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vila.

Soderberg added that the EPA also opened an office on Vieques to supervise the cleanup.

The officials did not mention the case of Culebra, whose negotiations passed to the Puerto Rican Environmental Quality Board and to the U.S. Army.

EPA Fines Martex Farms More Than $400,000

February 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) imposed fines of more than $400,000 on Martex Farms Co. for violating federal protection and security laws regarding workers on two of their farms in Santa Isabel and Ponce.

The interim EPA administrator for region 2, Kathleen Callahan, said this fine is the highest penalty the agency has imposed for violations of the Federal Law on Insecticides, Fungicides and Rodenticides.

"The transgressions found … include not offering specific information on what types of (chemicals) they were using on their farms, where and when they were applying them and the failure to offer supplies and adequate equipment for the protection of Martex employees," she said at a press conference at EPA headquarters in Santurce.

It was not possible to get an immediate comment from Martex Farms, which on its web page is described as a firm dedicated to growing, processing, packing and shipping tropical fruits and plants. Established in 1989, its farms cover more than 3,000 acres in the south of the island.

Mayor O'Neill: NPP Going Through "Difficult" Time

February 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — The struggle created by Pedro Rossello’s efforts to unseat Senate President Kenneth McClintock is the "most difficult" conflict ever faced by the New Progressive Party (NPP), said the NPP mayor of Guaynabo, Hector O’Neill.

O’Neill said the controversy that arose from Rossello’s arrival to the Senate after losing the Nov. 2 election for governor, exceeds previous struggles in the party caused by Carlos Romero Barcelo, Justo Mendez, Luis A. Ferre and Hernan Padilla.

"There is no doubt the party is split. There is dissent and unease in the party … and in the feeling and the pride of many leaders," O’Neill said in a newspaper interview.

"I don’t think (the dispute) can be resolved with talking," he said.

Wal-Mart Delivers Environmental Plan To EPA

February 3, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) — Wal-Mart Cos. on Thursday delivered a mitigation plan required by the Environmental Protection Agency after it was decided that the multinational firm violated the Clean Water Act during construction of its store in Caguas.

The director of the EPA for Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, Carl Soderberg, said the agency will evaluate the plan to decide if it must delay construction on the store.

"In the case of Wal-Mart, they arrived to submit a plan for prevention of erosion and sediment on the date it was asked. Right now, it is being evaluated," Soderberg said at a press conference.

"If the plan complies with the requirements, and they implement what has been identified, it shouldn’t stop — from the EPA’s point of view — construction on the Wal-Mart there," he said.

New Bills Would Boost City Finances

By Leonardo Aldridge

February 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila on Wednesday announced that he will send six bills to the Legislature, meant to improve the financial situation of the municipalities through increases in lines of credit, and changes to the formula for contributions to the Health Reform plan.

The governor made his announcement after a meeting with the president of the Federation of Municipalities, the NPP mayor of Fajardo, Anibal Melendez; and with the president of the Mayors Association, PDP Jose Aponte of Carolina.

"The distribution of funds (to the cities) will be done in a fair and equitable way," Acevedo Vila said at a La Fortaleza press conference.

"When there is an NPP governor, the PDP mayors complain … when it is us, the others complain. Our promise is that this is finished. It’s history," he said.

The bill would increase the lines of credit allowed for the cities to borrow money, but only in cases when they have resources to pay it back, Acevedo Vila said.

The governor also said the current formula that calculates how much cities must contribute to the Health Reform "is unfair."

He said he agreed to maintain the cities’ contribution to the Health Plan for one year while a new formula is established.

Currently, cities contribute a percentage to Health Reform based on the bracket in which their budget falls.

Other measures the governor will send to the Legislature include increases in the purchase margins for materials and equipment for public improvements without public bidding, and a project so cities receive money from fines imposed by the Transportation and Public Works Department more quickly

Puerto Rico Doesn’t Protect Smokers In Work Place

By The Associated Press

February 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

Twenty-eight states, as well as the District of Columbia, have laws protecting smokers' rights. Michigan is among the 22 states and Puerto Rico that do not.

The laws prohibit employers from requiring employees to abstain from the use of tobacco products outside of work or from discriminating against job applicants or employees based on their off-duty use of tobacco or other lawful products.

Slower Economic Growth Expected In PR In Coming Years


February 2, 2005
Copyright © 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – The Puerto Rico economy will grow at a slower pace during the present and next fiscal year in comparison to the fiscal year ended June 30, according to projections from the Planning Board announced Wednesday.

The board forecast that in fiscal year 2005 the Gross National Product will grow 2.3 percent and in 2006 it will increase 2.5 percent, both under the increase of 2.8 percent recorded in 2004.

"I have corresponded with the Treasury Department to look for alternatives that will be necessary to reduce the impact of such a projection, and the Office of Management and Budget, to consider government expenses," the president of the board, Angel Rodriguez, said at a news conference.

The program director of economic and social planning for the board, Jose Auger, attributed the expected reduction in economic growth to high prices for crude oil at a national level, the delicate financial situation in the United States, and the fall of the dollar.

Auger said the economic increase during fiscal year 2004 was an achievement, that is owed, in large part, to the investment in machinery and equipment, which rose 11.8 percent.

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