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Puerto Rico Loses Lawsuit Over Vieques

January 03, 2002|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that had been filed by Puerto Rico seeking to block further U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the island of Vieques.

The military's use of the small Caribbean island to test weapons and train troops has caused a long-running dispute between activists who say it damages the health, safety and welfare of nearby residents and military officials who say the training area is vital.

In the suit dismissed in Washington by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, Puerto Rican officials argued that the firing of naval guns on the island violated federal noise control regulations and a local statute passed in April.

Kessler, in her decision, noted that the "political and policy issues raised in this case are complex and involve the clash of many important issues." But, she said, the federal Noise Control Act did not permit Puerto Rico to sue in federal district court for the alleged violations.

Puerto Rican officials said they plan to appeal. The suit alleges that the noise created by the firing ranges has led to "fear, anxiety and tension" for residents and has particularly traumatized children. About 9,300 people live on the small island southeast of Puerto Rico. The U.S. military has denied that the exercises have caused any ill effects.

President Bush said in June that he believed the training site should be phased out by May 2003, a position that was controversial in the military and on Capitol Hill even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan.

A binding referendum allowing Vieques residents to vote on whether military exercises should end by 2003 was scheduled for November but was postponed by the Navy and then revoked by Congress as part of legislation for defense spending.

Those who have followed the issue closely say the referendum had been considered one of the best chances to ensure that Bush's 2003 deadline was enforced. As it stands now, legislation passed by Congress says that date will be met only if a suitable replacement site can be found for the training exercises.

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