One day in 1973, Steve Smith and Mike Hamilton drove down to Wilderness, a secluded surf spot inside Ramey Air Force Base, in Aguadilla Puerto Rico. It was about 18’ to 20’ and closing out, so they decided to go exploring for smaller surf. Mike took this dirt road that led to a small ranch: Cattle on the right, house on the left. Mike asked an old local guy if they could surf out front. No problem but keep it to yourself! They went to the end of the path and made a right where an opening in the trees and bushes revealed HEAVEN! Perfect 4’- 6′ hollow righthanders were sweeping across the reef. They ripped the place for two hours and thanked the old guy when they left. Mike came back the next day with his wife, when she noticed a WELL near the beach. That’s when she named the break “Wishing Well”. The name has stuck to this day! (Source 911 Surf Report See full history here)
Fast forward 20 years later, and that same ranch called Playuela was purchased by a developer looking into building one big mega-resort called Christopher Columbus Landing. As ironic as the name sounds, this resort named after the infamous Spanish land conquerer will eventually turn over 120 acres of pristine undeveloped coastal land into a condo/hotel of over 800 units, a 17,000 sq. ft. casino, a 34,000 sq. ft. convention center, three restaurants, along with two multi-level parking buildings of four stories each.
… and this is where the struggle begins
After the discovery of the plans to turn these pristine coastal lands into a mega-resort, and the ecological disaster that these plans represented, the local community and the international surfing community led by the Liga Ecológica del Noroeste, entered into a legal process which achieved the eventual halt of the construction plans. The surf community was heavily invested in this struggle as the Playuela Valley is home to several of the best world-renowned surf spots of Puerto Rico such as Wilderness, Pressure Point, El Mix, and Wishing Wells, as well as home to many different flora and fauna species.
… now fast forward 20 years later more
… and in late 2016, the ghost of Christopher Columbus reappears in the Playuela Valley again. A different developer, using the same 20-year old Environmental Impact Study, has allegedly obtained the permits and endorsement by the Autonomous City of Aguadilla and its mayor Carlos Méndez to begin the early phases of construction of the mega-project. The local community, highly concerned about the secretive way that the permits have been obtained, has once again risen up and stood against the developers.
Massive protests have taken place against the construction and against the city mayor; protests that have led to the arrest of over 20 protesters, who have stood in the way and blocked the construction machinery. A resistance camp known as Campamento Rescate Playuela has been established as part of the local Save Playuela initiative. Once again, the Liga Ecológica del Noroeste has sued the developer’s Caribbean Management Group, Inc. and the City of Aguadilla, because of serious irregularities in the permit approval process. The main argument is that the developers are using a 20-year old extremely deficient and outdated Environmental Impact Study and that they are failing to comply with different agency endorsements. After multiple attempts to serve the elusive president of the development company, Mr. Reinaldo Vincenty, the next court date has been set to March 17, 2017. The immediate fate of Playuela depends on the Aguadilla City Court and district judge Miriam Santiago Guzmán.
Click here for Enviromental Impacts
International Recognition and Support
The Save Playuela movement for the conservation of these lands and the establishment of a Natural Reserve has been advocated by the support of over 20 well-respected environmental organizations, several high-profile celebrities, musicians, and politicians, including a former governor candidate from these past elections. Day by day, the Save Playuela movement is gaining more ground in Puerto Rico, as people are becoming more aware of the value of our natural resources, and that tourism tendencies are no longer geared towards mega-hotel projects. Many local and international media outlets are covering the ongoing Playuela Valley struggle, and a petition has been signed by over 23,000 people to designate these lands for conservation.
There are many ways YOU can help ! Please sign the online petition here and please donate towards our ongoing efforts
- See National Geographic Article and Video here
- Read the Associated Press Big Story here
- Read Surfline article here
- Read Surfer Magazine article here
Article by Antonio Flores