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Federally-backed dredging of San Juan Bay begins

by | Apr 8, 2024 | Federal Government, Puerto Rico, Science and Environment | 0 comments

Dredging of the San Juan harbor began in early April, expanding Puerto Rico’s largest seaport. The project, which totals $62 million, is a joint effort by the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, which allocated around $17 million, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which invested $45 million in the project.

3 million cubic yards of ocean floor will be removed by a California-based company, allowing larger vessels to dock in San Juan. Tankers will also be able to access the port, connecting to a new liquid natural gas terminal on the island that opened in January. While the project was originally authorized in 2018 through the Water Resource and Development Act, Congress allocated the funding in 2021 when the bipartisan infrastructure law was passed.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D) estimated that the project would increase the islands’ economy by $400 million. He added, “These efforts are part of a comprehensive economic development strategy that seeks to expand our ability to attract maritime traffic, including for the cruise tourism industry. It is a great example of how the state and federal government are collaborating in hundreds of capital improvement projects throughout Puerto Rico.”

Although environmental groups challenged the dredging project in 2022, a federal judge ruled in July 2023 that USACE met legal requirements in analyzing the environmental effects of the project. The groups argued that USACE rushed the approval of the project without addressing harmful effects on endangered coral species and sea turtles. Other concerns included health effects from increased air pollution and the worry that the project would increase Puerto Rico’s reliance on fossil fuels even though the island has a 2019 mandate to only use renewable energy by 2050. The groups immediately appealed the judge’s decision, and a hearing was held in January. Attorney Catherine Kilduff, who represents the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said the project could harm manatees who live in the harbor because the removal of the sea floor would remove sea grass, and a larger harbor would increase ship traffic which would lead to collisions with the manatees. According to Kilduff, USACE promised to replant seagrass after the harbor was dredged in the early 200s but never did so. “The dredging itself causes sediment that can kill corals,” she added. “Those corals have been impacted by diseases and warming waters, and so we’re worried that this dredging project […] could be a death knell.”



Aamir Jamil

Aamir Jamil

Aamir Jamil is a student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. After living in Switzerland and Saudi Arabia, he became fascinated with international affairs, politics, and history. He enjoys reading, researching politics and political trends, discovering American and world history, and poring over the news in his free time. Other hobbies include playing the clarinet and writing for the university newspaper. He is a Federal Affairs Intern Editor at Pasquines.


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