Beach Access, Legal
March 27 2017

Fighting to Save Playuela in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

by Staley Prom

A proposed tourism development in Puerto Rico is threatening a pristine coastal area, home to some of the island’s most treasured surf spots.  The Christopher Columbus Landing Project would be located on the Playuela coast in the Municipality of Aguadilla, and would entail a seven-story hotel, casino, convention center, condominiums, and parking structures and access roads to accommodate its visitors. 

The project was originally proposed in the 1990’s, and while developers have received a couple of preliminary permits, including a preliminary development permit and an Urbanization Permit, the environmental review for the project was done nearly two decades ago.  And despite many changes to the project which would negatively impact ocean water quality and beach access, the environmental review hasn’t been revisited to incorporate these project changes, or changes to the circumstances under which the project would be built today.  When evaluated in the outdated environmental review, the hotel was proposed to be three stories (not seven), the proposed convention center was not included, and the proposed road locations were entirely different.  Moreover, during the nearly twenty years since review, several endangered species have been designated and identified near the project area.  These species, including two kinds of coral growing in the adjacent near-shore waters, would foreseeably be harmed by runoff or other impacts from the project; yet, they haven’t been considered in the project’s environmental review.  Access to and impacts on popular surf spots, including Wishing Wells, Pressure Point, and the Mix, is another concern with the proposed resort location.

What’s also seriously concerning is that a host of other permits and endorsements were required to be obtained as an absolute condition of the preliminary permitting, including from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service, the Puerto Rican Ecological League of the Northwest, and Environmental Quality Board, in addition to the Highway and Transportation Authority, the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Puerto Rico Health Department.  Yet, it seems the developer has failed to obtain any of these permits or endorsements.  Additionally, there is no indication the developer obtained a required National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general construction permit before starting construction in October 2016, giving rise to a multitude of coastal water quality concerns.  

The apparent brash actions by the developer to start clearing land without the proper environmental review or permits in place are what motivated local surfers and community members to protest in order to draw attention to the issue and document any harm that might be caused to the region’s natural resources.  (Surfrider Foundation was not involved in any protests on the project site).

One of the conservation community’s valuable partner organizations, La Liga Ecológica del Noroeste, which has standing to sue the project in court, has filed a lawsuit to stop the project.  Surfrider is keeping a close watch on the lawsuit’s proceedings.  The Surfrider Rincón Chapter's supportive involvement to date is based on the Chapter's recognized expertise in water quality issues (check out the Chapter's Blue Water Task Force data here), the nearshore reef ecology, and beach access protection.    

Additionally, Surfrider Foundation has filed a letter with the Municipality of Aguadilla requesting that the municipality order the developer to provide notice of any additional future permit requests made, as the project still requires numerous construction permits, and because public notice and a public opportunity to weigh in on the project or its necessary permits has been completely lacking with respect to this project.  This is completely unacceptable for a project of this magnitude and with such dire potential consequences to the Playuela coastal environment and the public’s enjoyment of the area’s beach and surf. 

Surfrider Foundation continues to urge Aguadilla to grant its request for public notice.  You can help ensure a full and fair public process is provided with respect to this project, by writing a letter urging the municipality to grant Surfrider’s request.  Letters should be sent to:

 

              Hon. Carlos Mendez 

              Municipality of Aguadilla

              P.O. Box 1008, 

              Aguadilla, PR 00605-1008

 

              Municipality of Aguadilla

              Oficina de Permisos

              P.O. Box 1008, 

              Aguadilla, PR 00605-1008

 

Surfrider will continue to activate on this campaign, alongside coalition partner La Liga Ecológica del Noroeste, and others in the area who want to see these critical coastal resources preserved at Playuela.  Specifically, Surfrider will continue to raise other agencies’ attention to the matter, and hold the appropriate parties accountable with respect to the lack of required endorsements and permits. 

Please stay tuned to the Surfrider Foundation Rincon Chapter’s website and Facebook page for updates. 

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