The U.S. House of Representatives has approved an amendment authored by Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) aimed at advancing the cleanup of the Martín Peña Channel, a 3.7-mile stretch in San Juan that has long been plagued with environmental problems.
“The people of the Martín Peña Channel are suffering tremendous public health problems through their exposure to contaminated water and we must act,” said Velázquez.
“We need the expertise and resources of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remediate this sore spot, so area residents can raise their families in a safe and healthy community,” she said.
The Martín Peña Channel is clogged with debris, sediment and organic waste, and area structures continue discharging sewage into the waterway. As a result, residents of the surrounding Martín Peña neighborhood are frequently exposed to health hazards.
Residents there increasingly suffer from health conditions like skin rashes, asthma, and outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases from exposure to contaminated water. Hurricanes María and Irma exacerbated environmental problems in the channel and surrounding area, as more than 1,000 area homes sustained damage.
Experts agree that cleaning up the site will require dredging to remove contaminated substances, and Velázquez’s amendment encourages the Army Corps to allocate funding needed to cover the first phase of such a project, including a temporary staging and dredged material management site.
This is essential for preparation of the sites of disposal of dredged sediments and imperative for dredging from the San José Lagoon entrance of the Channel to the Barbosa Bridge.
In addition, language included in the Appropriations Committee Report also encourages the Corps to include necessary funding for this project in future budget requests; and report to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress within 90 days.
Velázquez’s amendment will also allow for the relocation of the Rexach trunk sewer, which will provide a new sewer system for the southern area of Santurce in San Juan and is critical for the ecosystem restoration project.
“This is not only an environmental project, but a pressing issue of social and environmental justice,” Velázquez added.
“The people who live along this troubled channel have suffered long enough, and María and Irma underscored how quickly these problems can worsen with extreme weather. With hurricane season looming upon us, we have an obligation to act before the next hurricane or flood,” the lawmaker said.
Velázquez’s amendment was added to the Energy and Water Development portion of a larger appropriations bill. The amendment was approved “en bloc” with several other amendments by a bipartisan vote of 382 to 52.