Eight communities close to Caño Martín Peña have raised claims of environmental justice that deserve quick and concrete responses from the federal and local governments, that distribute multi-milliondollar federal allocations for flood control and recovery after 2017 hurricanes.
Recurrent floods in these communities located in the heart of San Juan are a serious public health problem. But governmental parsimony on the dredging of the Caño also attempts to the social and economic development of the residents of the metropolitan area and Puerto Rico. El Caño is one of the main hydrographic arteries of the metropolitan region. Its conditions has effects on important touristic, recreational and port assets. It impacts the right to well-being of the central component of the ecosystem: almost 27,000 citizens.
After years of planning and advances, dredging plans had a severe setback this week. Due to a technicality, it was excluded from a list of projects for flood areas that will receive $ 2,5 billion. This decision represents a significant delay in a project that is ready to begin.
The federal government considers that dredging is classified as an ecological restoration project with flood protection benefits. The available funds are for flood mitigation and channeling. The difference in the first category leaves thousands of neighbors -who are flooded in smelly waters whenever it rains- out of the ecosystem.
Given this absurd point of bureaucracies, on Wednesday, neighbors received the promise of federal officials to evaluate the availability of other funds. They have been informed that $ 2,5 billion is an initial allocation of $ 14 billion that the US Army Corps of Engineer will manage. In any case, residents are requesting to be part of the conversations about the available budget. And they should be.
These residents, grouped in the G-8 community organization, are empowered citizens who have exercised their responsibility for self-management for a long time. With the Enlace Project assistance, they have actively and democratically participated in the conceptualization of a single comprehensive plan where dredging is the foundation. It is a broad city transformation project includes environmental issues, health and social justice for its residents, even governance.
Participatory democracy in their neighborhood dynamics has allowed about 300 families to relocate in the same communities. They have achieved this through consultation and consent of those neighbors relocated. They have also completed three of nine key infrastructure projects to reduce flood risk and make dredging feasible.
This comprehensive development project, which includes the dredging of the Caño, represents a scale model for the island´s reconstruction. It is the result of a monumental integration effort, which has combined private and non-profit entities, and involved hundreds of learning and debate activities. The effort has been recognized with important international awards.
Facing the severe setback due the exclusion of the dredging from recent federal allocation, the local government still has an unprecedented opportunity to make the restoration agenda -in the most densely populated area of the entire island- possible. Puerto Rico is about to receive $ 18 billion through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). The estimated cost for the dredging and restoration of the Caño is $ 600 million.
Giving the priority that this social justice project deserves would serve as a step towards to the sustainable development we should all aspire to build a new Puerto Rico.
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