If elected, the candidate for governor of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), Carlos Delgado Altieri, would favor transferring ownership of the Mercedita Airport to the Ponce Municipal Government, under the condition that the operation of the asset falls to a private Ponce entity.
Their expressions transcended during the Ponce Forum, a meeting with the candidates for the governorship coordinated by WPAB 550 AM and La Perla del Sur, last Friday at the MedCentro headquarters in Ponce.
The applicant’s proposal coincides with public claims from unions and businessmen of the city, who for years have asked that the airport be transferred to the city council or local private hands, given the underutilization of the asset and the lack of priority of its operator, the Authority of the Ports (AP).
For a year and a half, the AP has been promoting a plan to privatize all regional airports – including Mercedita – and grant them to the same operator selected by the agency.
The management, however, has been rejected by local businessmen, who understand that the process has occurred behind the backs of the citizens and without taking into account the needs and aspirations of the region.
Delgado Altieri’s proposal would place the ownership of the air terminal and the power to select the operator that would take control of its administration in the hands of the Ponce Municipal Government.
“That could be an administrative scaffolding, which is transferred to the municipality and the municipality looks for an operator. We know that the city is undercapitalized, it is bankrupt. That is a reality and we have to see that reality. He will not have the money to operate it, “he said to questions from La Perla del Sur.
“Obviously, there is a public interest here and that this is carefully preserved. It is not a question of yielding to the private company for yielding. It is that there is a public interest, subsidized with a private investment. I do believe in that type of structure ”, he added.
“Therefore, if the private company has it, but we have control through the municipality, it seems to me that it is an optimal alliance to get the most out of the airport,” he added.
Delgado Altieri went further, indicating that he would favor its operation to fall into a local private entity, composed of Ponce or southern businessmen, to integrate it into regional tourism and economic development strategies.
“Given the economic reality that Puerto Rico is experiencing, if there are private interests that belong to the city, that are Puerto Rican and that are investing from their capital to boost the economy of the city and the region, it seems to me that we have to give ourselves those opportunities “, he claimed.
“Here we cannot continue to see a Puerto Rico that we applaud when outsiders come to invest, but when locals do, there is skepticism,” he continued.
“We have to see the Puerto Rican businessman as someone who is risking money, who is betting on economic development and the economy, despite the difficulties we are seeing.”
Operator in the Port of Las Americas?
On the other hand, the candidate for governor alleged that, just days before the general elections, Mayor María Meléndez Altieri is preparing to announce the selection of an operator for the Port of Las Américas.
Given this, he accused the municipal executive of “again using” the port to try to win votes at the last minute.
“It seems little serious to me to continue using the port as a political ball. Every time the elections approach, we see that they come with an announcement or an initiative that always ends in nothing, to try to deceive the citizens of Ponce and the Region again, “he denounced.
“All this must be reviewed. These things that are done just days before an election, everyone knows that they are done with a political intention. If there is really an interested operator, you have to see it and if agreements are reached, you have to look at them again to see if they are in tune with reality, “he said.
On the other hand, Delgado Altieri announced that one of his priorities for the port is to complete the construction of the value-added areas and maximize its tourism potential. In addition, he did not rule out negotiating to transfer the handling of a large part of the loose cargo from the Port of San Juan to the port of Ponce.
The candidate also announced that he will promote legislation to change the organizational and administrative structure of the Port again.
“New legislation must be done,” he insisted. “Nothing has happened in the Port, just as nothing has happened in all of Ponce. We only see the deterioration, which is accelerating more and more as a result of the abandonment of the Central and Municipal Government, ”he said.
“You have to see if the structure that exists right now has worked. I think it has not worked. We have to look at it so that we have a meeting in tune with the reality and the new development expectations of the Port ”, he added.
Doesn’t rule out AES
Finally, the aspiring governor did not rule out signing an agreement with the company AES in Guayama, which would extend its stay on the island, if it proceeds to a conversion to natural gas and eliminates the use of coal as a raw material for electricity generation in Puerto Rico.
The coal company, based in Guayama, has disposed of over two million tons of toxic coal ash on land in at least 11 municipalities on the island. After a fierce struggle led by affected communities in Peñuelas and Guayama, the disposal of the waste was prohibited in the country, in January 2020.
“Obviously we cannot continue with that type of energy production (coal), which is highly polluting and I think the time has come to stop that type of fossil energy. We cannot continue in that direction and the country has suffered a lot, “he said.
“A transition process has been being considered that must be looked at very carefully. More than rewarding, it would be a transitional process and to which you have to establish certain periods of time. It cannot be a transition to natural gas and that we stay there, ”he continued.
“I would evaluate it,” he continued. “I would not rule it out per se, because we have to remove that type of production (coal) that we have right now, which is highly polluting.”
“It’s not the nicest thing. If we can show that we can transition to cleaner energy and we can do it faster, obviously using that transition from natural gas would be ruled out, “he added.