Cano - Martin - Pena With the allocation of $163 million, the construction phase can start, which includes the dredging of the Caño Martín Peña.
Image via La Fortaleza

The urban waterway project will dredge and make infrastructural repairs to the channel that connects all of San Juan’s bodies of waters, bringing environmental justice to the surrounding communities.

Finally, the eight underserved communities that live near the Caño Martín Peña in San Juan are seeing a glimmer of hope after years of environmental injustice. That’s because President Biden’s administration has allocated $163 million to the reconstruction of one of the most important bodies of water in Puerto Rico’s urban area.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and US Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) announced the allocation last week, after they wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers urging them to select the project.

“The Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act is a clear opportunity to right the great social and environmental injustices that those living along this polluted canal in Puerto Rico have suffered for decades,” Velázquez said.

RELATED: This Is Why Puerto Rico Is Becoming an Important Aerospace Center

The Puerto Rican representative said she was overjoyed for the communities because for years she tried to secure federal funding to restore the Caño Martín Peña.

“For years, the Trump Administration callously ignored our calls to fund construction at the Caño despite the constant pleas by our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico asking us to restore the area. After fighting to secure a funding mechanism in the infrastructure law, Rep. Velázquez and I worked with the Biden Administration to prioritize the selection of this much-needed project,” added Schumer in a press release.

Now with the allocations of the funds the construction phase can start, which includes the dredging and channeling of the Caño.

The dredging project has a cost of about $254 million and is expected to last six to eight years. The rest of the funds must be allocated by the local government and obtained by the Caño Martín Peña Link Project Corporation.

Nearly 26,000 people live in the surrounding communities of the Caño Martín Peña, and 65% of residents live below poverty, according to 2014 data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Caño Martín Peña was once a 200–400 ft. wide navigable channel connecting San Juan Bay to the San José Lagoon. Now it’s severely polluted from years of accumulated debris, mismanaged residential and commercial development, and continuous discharge of raw sewage directly into the water. The sediment and debris causing infill in the canal also impact the stormwater management system for the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and cause flooding all along the canal.

In fact, more than half of the residents along the channel experience flooding when it rains. Similarly, the level of contamination causes illnesses to residents and the flora and fauna of the area.

“The project will significantly improve the health and welfare of the community, enhance the quality of water, and restore fish and mangrove habitats. It is crucial that the voices of the people continue to be heard during the implementation of the project,” María Revelles, Chispa Florida director and co-director of La Mesa Boricua de Florida, told Floricua.

RELATED: From the Mountains of Jayuya, Marisol Villalobos Is Making a Difference in the World

Velázquez said she will continue to monitor the rollout of the funding to ensure action is taken as soon as possible.

“The people cannot wait any longer for environmental justice,” Velázquez said.