Construction Of Shorter Vieques Route May Begin In 2004
By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin
May 21, 2002
Although construction of a new and shorter maritime route from Puerto Rico to Vieques may be good news for those who must travel back and forth between the two islands, they won't be able to benefit from it anytime soon, engineer adviser to Vieques and Naguabo mayors Damaso Serrano and Robert Baez, respectively, said it may take one and a half years to obtain construction permits to start building the project.
Furthermore, local funds to develop the port at Punta Lima, Naguabo and its connector to PR-53 are yet to be identified, since the only funds available for the project are from the $40 million that the U.S. Congress allocated to the U.S. Navy for improvement works on Vieques, as part of the Clinton-Rossello agreement that included the withdrawal of the naval forces from the island municipality by 2003.
Serrano said approximately $13 million of the $40 million total destined for projects in Viequessuch as roads improvements and construction of emergency facilities at the Vieques airport terminaland about $17 million of the remaining money will be used to develop the new route between Naguabo and Vieques. The project, however, has an estimated cost of $30 million, said Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila during a press conference held on Monday following the arrival of Serrano at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in Isla Verde.
Jose A. Marcano, the engineer adviser to Serrano and Baez, said docks at Mosquito Bay in Vieques and Punta Lima in Naguabo, ideally should be built simultaneously. However, without knowing where the money to build the dock in Naguabo will come from, no definite statements can be made about it.
However, House Speaker Carlos Vizcarrondo, who also was present at the press conference, said he scheduled a meeting on Friday to discuss how the local government can come through with the necessary funds to finish the development of the route. Meanwhile, Acevedo Vila committed himself to helping find additional federal funding for the project.
The issue was discussed upon the Vieques mayors arrival from Washington, where he had been meeting with congressional members to defend and demand the Navy allocates the money to develop the new route.
Acevedo Vila said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Kevin Green had confirmed the rest of the money of the Clinton-Rossello agreement had been allocated to develop several projects proposed by the Vieques mayor, but most importantly, the development of the new maritime route.
Serrano and Acevedo Vila claimed that after the first $12 million to $13 million had been assigned last year for several improvement projects in Vieques last year, the Navy had stopped assigning the remaining funds to other projects, thus jeopardizing the eventual disbursement of funds for development of the new route.
Acevedo Vila said the federal law containing the Clinton-Rossello agreement stated that if the funds weren't allocated by Sept. 2002, they would be lost. Thus, Serrano and Acevedo Vila regarded Green's announcement a triumph for the people of Vieques, since they now can rest assured that the money is there for them to use.
"We are here to clearly state that this is another triumph for the people of Vieques...That money belongs to us and we will use it to establish what I believe is an indispensable, fair, logical, and reasonable requirement for the full development of our island: the short route," Serrano said.
As one of many Popular Democratic Party members who criticized the Clinton-Rossello agreement that included the $40 million for which he now fights, Acevedo Vila said there is no contradiction in his actions because he said that what he had criticized back then wasnt the allocation per se, but other political aspects of the issue. If anything, he had criticized that the $40 million didn't come close to what the people of Vieques should be entitled to after more than 60 years of sustained ecological damage and economic underdevelopment due to the military practices held on the island municipality.
"I don't remember anyone ever saying the $40 million wasnt good for the people of Vieques," said Acevedo Vila.
Meanwhile, the Naguabo mayor handed Acevedo Vila a resolution of his municipal assembly requesting he do his best to help find the funds to build the other two parts of the new route.
Baez said the route will benefit the economic development of Naguabo, particularly in the tourism industry, since the shorter route will serve as an attraction for tourists as well as for developers who may see this as an opportunity to benefit from the back-and-forth exchange between Vieques and Naguabo.
According to the Naguabo mayor, it takes approximately 75 minutes to go from the Isabel Segunda port in Vieques to Fajardo, while the proposed new route would cut down that time to about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, Marcano added that the time difference is due to the shorter distance between the two points and because the gentler winds makes traveling from Naguabo to Vieques easier.