Puerto Rico sues to block Navy bombs on Vieques

Lawsuit contends Navy must follow noise law

April 25, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - The Puerto Rican government sued the U.S. Navy and Pentagon yesterday in an effort to block military training this weekend on Vieques.

It was the first step in this week's long-awaited confrontation over bombing on the target range.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, calls for the Navy to follow local environmental noise regulations that Gov. Sila Maria Calderon signed into law minutes before going to court.

The rules prohibit sonic booms and noise levels generated by shelling during land, air and amphibious training. Some experts have linked the noise levels to heart abnormalities known as vibroacoustic disease. Doctors found signs of the disease in Vieques fishermen.

After filing the lawsuit, Calderon wrote Navy and Defense Department officials asking them to stop bombing exercises scheduled to begin as early as Friday. If she doesn't get an answer this morning, Puerto Rico will seek a temporary restraining order.

"They have left me no other choice," Calderon said.

Lawyers for the Navy and Department of Justice are poring over Puerto Rico's new law and the lawsuit. The local regulations are based on the federal Noise Prohibition Act of 1972, which says states can regulate environmental noise. Military and other agencies are apparently exempt from the law, but how far local jurisdictions can go to require permits and other conditions is a point of contention.

"I wouldn't say the exercises are on hold," said a Navy spokesman on condition of anonymity. "Based on the current agreement, we will be able to train."

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