jueves, 11 de marzo de 2010

Escrito del Dr. Fred C. Schaffner Gibbs

Re: Reacción de la Coalición Pro Bosque Seco Ventanas Verraco ante la aprobación del Proyecto Windmar por parte e la Junta de Planificación de Puerto Rico.

A note to everyone:

The conflict brought by the specific location of the proposed Windmar project goes very far beyond issues of incidental takes of birds and bats or of threatened and endangered species. The project will irreparably fragment the entire property, an act that will severely damage the ecological value of the Windmar property as well as the adjacent habitat inside the Guánica State Forest itself. The real, long term effect is vastly greater than the mere loss of “X” acres of real estate. Roads and cleared platforms provide routes of entry into the forest for pests, predators, parasites and diseases that would not otherwise have a natural route of entry. These agents tend to “patrol” the perimeter of a fragment searching for opportunities. Each additional insult to the forest increases the ratio of perimeter to interior, thus increasing very dramatically the negative effects of increasing the perimeter to interior ratio that results from roads and clearings. Cutting a road along the edge of a protected area obviously degrades – very severely – the supposedly “protected” habitat inside the reserve.

We know from the existing literature that the effects of roads and clearings can extend very far into the adjacent forest, even hundreds of meters. The mere act of clearing a roadway through the forest can instantly transform hundreds of acres of interior habit to “edge”, or perimeter habitat and affect the populations of many species. Remember, the roads needed to haul in the tower components are as wide as the autopista.

In addition, many species require substantial contiguous blocks of habitat, especially forest interior habitat in order to establish themselves and reproduce. To illustrate the point, suppose each nesting pair of “species A” requires 17 hectares of contiguous forest interior space in order to reproduce. The developer is allowed to deforest 170 hectares of forest. The deforested property includes a new road that runs along the perimeter of the remaining forest, along the territories of ten pairs of species A, transforming it into edge habitat, rather than interior habitat, thus eliminating territories for ten pairs of species A within the remaining “protected’ reserve.

Suppose that the government, in its typical wisdom, tells the developer he has to mitigate by planting additional forest, or passing ownership of the remaining property to the government, to be included, administratively, as part of the reserve. However, all of the mitigation property is fragmented. None consists of contiguous blocks of 17 or more ha of interior forest habitat. In the end, the mitigation has done nothing of real value for this species. 20 territories – 10 inside the reserve, and 10 on the deforested property are destroyed. Worse still, because the reserve and mitigation properties still look superficially like forest, they attract local and long distant migratory species. These species arrive and fail to find adequate resources in these two degraded forests (the reserve and the mitigation). Many die. Thus, these forests are now quite literally “dead ends”, sinks, rather than sources for these species.

For all the reasons mentioned above the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB) asks governments to provide regulated transitional zones around the protected core habitat of any reserve declared a “Biosphere Reserve” in the MAB program. Biosphere Reserve Buffer and Transition Zones have highly restrictive land uses in order to prevent the effects described above within the core of the reserve. Wind generation facilities, though they may be desirable things when properly located, should not be located in a forest, and they are not considered appropriate activities for a Biosphere Reserve Transition Zone. The Windmar property falls within the Transition Zone for the Guánica reserve.

When Puerto Rico accepted Biosphere Reserve status for the Guanica State Forest it made an ethical and moral commitment to protect the Transition Zone as well. Recognizing the difficulty in enforcing its own zoning laws, the Puerto Rico government established an acquisition plan to acquire all of the property now occupied by Windmar, and the rest of the transition zone, and incorporate it into the Guanica State forest. As we know, this has been letra muerta, and the whole world will have yet another opportunity to see how well the PR government keeps its word, how well it honors its ethical and moral commitments, and how easily it can be “dissuaded’ from honoring its commitments, and, itself.

Hedonic Valuation and Public Goods.

Further, everyone knows that a house built with a beautiful view is worth more than a house built next to a dump. That view, and the other resources of the environment are public goods, with value. By allowing the destruction of the forest we will be transferring public goods, and value, from its current multiple owners, to a singular private entity. This will have an overall negative economic impact on society, over the long term. Robin Hood in reverse – take from the poor and give to the rich. Windmar, in essence, is asking to be allowed to do a “take” of public goods and public economic value – value that belongs to you, and that once taken will never be returned to you. Are you all really willing to give Windmar your property, without compensation?

Devil’s Advocate – just suppose.

Suppose, hypothetically, and for the sake of argument, that the developer’s real interest is the extraction of construction materials (his original business). Given the sensitive location of the site, he will logically look for a way to industrialize it in the name of a supposedly “eco-friendly” industrial development. Better still (for him) if he can partner with the government and receive massive government subsidies and incentives, while at the same time passing all liability to the government when the project inevitably fails. An “eco-friendly” wind farm might be a good way to do this.

No wind turbine or tower I know of is certified to sustain more than 10 minutes of a Category 2 hurricane. But who cares? When the towers start coming down, or when they burn (as they sometimes do – electricity, friction, sparks, fiberglass blades, and 400 Litres of lubricating oil), the government (YOU folks) will be stuck with the liability. Logically, one can expect the project to go bankrupt at about the same time that the government incentives and subsidies dry up. All of you – the public, will be left to pay for the damages and costs of the failed project. On the other hand, the proponent will be left with an industrialized site (zoned “industrial”) and no real, effective liability. We can predict that he will go back to his original business- construction materials, and turn the site into a cement factory (cementera) and quarry (cantera y marmolera). Any economist can see that there is vastly more money to be made by extracting construction materials than by extracting electricity from wind. .

Oh, and please remember, once la Cantera Windmar is in full operation, everyone will have forgotten about the forest and the electrical generation. It could become a public health crisis worse than the one in Juana Díaz. And an environmental justice issue too. The issue will be the respiratory problems (dust) and other severe health problems imposed on the surrounding human population, now even further impoverished by the industrialization of this site.

None of this improves your quality of life, and none of this is in the PUBLIC’s interest. Ask yourselves how well the government is really protecting your interests and your quality of life. During the August Public Hearings we observed an old ex-cop parading around in an intimidating fashion telling people he was the “eyes and ears” of the governor, and that the governor wanted to make sure the project got approved. This old guy was very convincing! He certainly convinced me. Would such a measure really be necessary if the government was really trying to protect the public interest?

Call it fantasy. Call it one man’s interpretation. But look at the numbers and think about it carefully. Economic behavior is very easy to predict. We will know the true answer in time.

This is not a trivial issue of pajareros and tree-huggers, as some would have you believe.

This is about the quality of your lives, and those of your families – your children and grandchildren.

Think about this very carefully.

Fred C. Schaffner
Fred C. Schaffner, Ph.D.
Decano Asociado,
Estudios Graduados e Investigación
Escuela de Ciencias y Tecnología
Universidad del Turabo
PO Box 3030, (Carr 189, Km 3.3)
Gurabo, PR 00778-3030
(787) 743-7979 exts. 4251, 4014, 4360, 4255
There is no such thing as "enough" time in the field (God).
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