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Enjoying the Scenery

2008 July 22

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

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Photo of a cloudy day at the beachAs I drive down the road following the vehicle in front of me, I can’t stop wondering about the beautiful surroundings. With every glimpse, as I try to slow down and drive through this narrow rural coastal road, Isabela’s sand dunes reveal before my eyes like a never ending spectacle. This is the part of my job I enjoy the most! It is a beautiful hot Monday with no clouds in sight and with every mile I feel the urge to dip into the clear blue water. Héctor Varela, my companion, a surfer and member of NUPA an NGO from the town of Isabela, stops at the end of the road and urges me to step outside of the comfortable 69F inside my car. I am taken aback by the foul smell coming from an area known to surfers as Guayabo. This is what I came here for: the smell. What began as a preoccupation some surfers had, has turned into a brand new assignment: coordinating a meeting between CEPD and the community to hear their concerns and find a solution to the problem.

This part of Isabela, known as Barrio Jobos is a paradise for tourists and local beach lovers. The panoramic views, submarine caves and great surfing provide the recreation and beauty that attracts thousands of people every year. A few years ago the problem was the trash on the highly dense areas of Jobos. Another NGO, Rescate Playas Isabela, adopted the beaches and began a massive restoration and cleanup project that has garnered them an EPA’s EQA in 2008. The ongoing work of these two NGO’s is an example of how environmental vigilance has come a long way from protesting as NGO’s have transformed into allies of the economic and tourism sector to showcase not only our natural resources but to be vigilant whenever they are being endangered and seek the advice from regulatory agencies.

Disfrutando del Paisaje

Mientras sigo al vehículo que va frente a mi no puedo dejar de admirar el bello paisaje a mi alrededor. Con cada vistazo y mientras trato de reducir la velocidad en esta carretera rural, las dunas de arena de la costa Isabelina
se revelan ante mis ojos como un espectáculo que no quiere terminar . Esta es la parte de mi trabajo que más disfruto! Es un lunes hermoso, el cielo está perfecto sin nubes y con cada milla que recorro siento la urgente necesidad de lanzarme al agua que luce de un hermoso tono azul turquesa claro. Héctor Varela, mi acompañante, conduce el auto que va al frente. El es un “surfer” y miembro del grupo ambiental comunitario Nación Unida Pro Ambiente (NUPA)
quienes están ubicados en la ciudad norteña de Isabela, famosa por las dunas que acabo de describir. Al llegar al final de nuestra travesía Héctor me pide que me baje del auto y abandone los cómodos 65F del acondicionador de aire. Lo hago con gusto ya que el paisaje es hermoso. Afuera el viento sopla hacia el norte y el calor, la humedad y el olor son insoportables. Hay algo huele mal y para eso he venido aquí a este sector conocido como Guayabo. Lo que comenzó como una preocupación de un grupo de “surfers” se ha convertido ahora para mí en una nueva asignación. Tengo que coordinar una reunión entre los residentes de esta comunidad y el personal de nuestra División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe (CEPD), a la que pertenezco, para hablar de este problema y encontrarle una solución.

Esta parte de Isabela, el Barrio Jobos, es un paraíso para turistas y amantes de la playa. Las vistas panorámicas, las cuevas submarinas y las olas perfectas para el “surfing” proveen el tipo de recreación y belleza que atrae a miles de personas cada año a estas costas. Hace pocos años el problema de la basura en las áreas más pobladas y visitadas de Jobos era un problema. Ya no lo es gracias al esfuerzo de otro grupo comunitario Rescate Playas Isabela, quienes no solo limpiaron y adoptaron las playas como lo anuncian los rótulos, si no que llevan a cabo esfuerzos masivos por mantenerlas limpias y concienzar a los visitantes y residentes. Todo este esfuerzo les ha valido un Envirormental Quality Award este año, este es el reconocimiento más alto que otorga la Región 2 a aquellos grupos, instituciones o personas que protegen el medioambiente. El trabajo de estos dos grupos NUPA y Rescate Playas Isabela es un claro ejemplo de cómo el rol vigilante de los grupos ambientales de base comunitaria se ha transformado de la protesta a la colaboración. Ellos son aliados vitales para que la economía y el turismo puedan progresar al mantener limpios nuestros más preciados recursos naturales no solo para el disfrute de los residentes pero también de aquellos que los visitan.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Lina-EPA permalink*
    July 22, 2008

    Beautiful beach! Would love to be there right now!

  2. Mary Harper permalink
    July 23, 2008

    Lovely beach, interesting story but what is the SMELL? I’m intrigued and want to know more. As a beach steward in NJ, I may be able to make use of what you discover.

  3. Brenda Reyes permalink
    July 27, 2008

    The source of the smell appeard to be the wrongful connection of a or various sewer discharge into the stormwater collection system. We are working with the community and the local agencies.

  4. Lourdes Irizarry permalink
    August 1, 2008

    I am the former president of Rescate Playas Isabela, Inc. and currently part of our Committee for Clean Water. RPI is extremely disappointed in the lack of corrective measures and action that the Puerto Rico EPA office has provided since they arranged the forum with NUPA and RPI to meet with the community May 29th 2008. Today (August 1st, 2008) we have yet to obtain any additional information regarding the investigation they began in April 2008. We have raised a RED FLAG on the scum and foul smell coming from the facility since the last quarter of 2007. We requested the Water Treatment facilities(Secondary Treatment Plant) December 10th, 2007 through a FOIA, along with a copy of the NPDES permit and the monthly reports the facility has sent the EPA showing they are meeting the conditions of the permit. We finally got the copy of the DRAFT (the form was blank) of the permit in Feb. It was not until APRIL 22nd, 2008 that we finally got the actual copy. We did not receive the copies of the monthly reports until May 29th, the evening we held the forum. To this date we are still waiting for the LEYEND that corresponds to the reports in order to interpret them. I should add we have been following up with the Puerto Rico EPA office throughout this period of time. A week ago (after 3 follow up emails) we were told that the Water Treatment facility is working on the action plan, as stated by a judicial order, and that they (EPA) are evaluating 7 other collection systems in different municipalities which is a long and complex process. So…. we are just supposed to continue to wait while families with small children bath less than 1/4 mile from where the discharge is being poured into the Atlantic. We were expecting the EPA to react immediately, as you can see this is not the case. As far as we know the wrongful connections the EPA found to the system as still in place and we have no date or timeline, no action plan, no leyend to interpret the reports which took 5 months to get…… All we have is alot of disappointment and concern for our community and it’s visitors who unknowingly are bathing in the beaches adjacent to the treatment plant.

  5. June 1, 2012

    Nice beach ruined by foul smell! :(

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