EPA Plays Hard Ball With Developer in Puerto Rico

Filling in wetlands to build some tennis courts has cost a developer in Puerto Rico $20,000 and the tennis courts.

Tennis anyone? A developer in Puerto Rico recently found out how expensive the game of tennis can be.

Manuel Rodriguez-Gonzalez, president of Continental Tennis and Beach Resort Corp., has paid a $20,000 penalty for filling approximately one acre of wetlands without prior authorization during construction of a beachfront condominium complex on property located in Zarzal Ward, Municipality of Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. The wetlands are next to a mangrove channel associated with Cienaga la Pic.

During February and March of 2000, the company cleared the wetland area and filled it with gravel, intending to construct a tennis court and club house. The work was halted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the development company did not have the necessary permit.

The federal Clean Water Act requires anyone seeking to place fill in wetlands and other "waters of the United States" such as rivers, lakes, harbors, bays and the ocean to have prior authorization from the Corps.

Permit applications are evaluated by the Corps based on whether the fill is absolutely necessary to meet the project needs, whether other non-wetland project sites are available, whether impacts to the environment have been minimized and whether the developer will compensate for unavoidable impacts.

In addition to requiring the cash penalty, EPA ordered the company to remove the fill and restore the wetland. Continental Tennis and Beach Resort Corporation has done so, and paid the penalty in full. It has also paid a $7,500 penalty to the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources for violation of Commonwealth environmental law during the construction.

Wetlands provide storm protection and erosion control, as well as food and habitat to numerous fish, birds and other wildlife. Losing or degrading wetlands can lead to serious consequences, such as extinction of species and decline in productivity of coastal fisheries.

Anyone planning construction in wetlands should contact the Corps of Engineers well in advance regarding permit requirements. Information about applying for wetlands permits from the Corps of Engineers can be found at www.usace.army.mil/inet/functions/cw/cecwo/reg/.

edited by Sandy Smith

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