After exhausting all efforts to obtain a list of vulnerable, destroyed and reopened bridges after Hurricane María from the Highways and Transportation Authority (ACT, in Spanish), the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) filed a request for mandamus from the court to force the agency to fulfill its duty of providing access to this public information.
“No one in the ACT and the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP, in Spanish) has delivered the information requested” since Sept. 4, 2019 by journalist Rafael R. Díaz-Torres, according to the complaint filed in the San Juan Superior Court against Rosana Aguilar-Zapata, Executive Director of the ACT.
“The only excuse the agency offered for denying access to this information is that they were afraid to share the list, since they feared that the press wouldn’t know how to use the document or could misunderstand it. After everything failed: making dozens of calls, [leaving] telephone and text messages and conducting interviews in person to obtain the requested information, the CPI filed this lawsuit given the official’s breach of her executive duty to facilitate access to public information,” said Carla Minet, executive director of the Center.
In its legal claim, the CPI specifically asks the court to order the head of the agency to provide: (1) the list of bridges vulnerable to collapsing; (2) list of bridges that have been reopened after they were destroyed by Hurricane María in September 2017; and (3) list of bridges destroyed by Hurricane María in September 2017 that are pending reopening.
“The documents, materials and information the CPI requested are originated and preserved by a Commonwealth agency. Therefore, they are public documents and materials, to which any citizen can access or obtain a copy of if requested. All the requested information is public and of high public interest for the people of Puerto Rico,” the court document stated.
The original request for information was made on Sept. 4 through the ACT’s Communications and Press office, when the journalist asked for a copy of the inventory of roads and bridges that are vulnerable to the landfall of cyclones or extraordinary atmospheric events.
“After several follow-up efforts by the CPI and changes in ACT communications staff, the list of bridges was requested again on Dec. 11, 2019, and we have not received a response as of today, January 30, 2020,” said the executive of the CPI, a nonprofit organization.
The lawyers representing the CPI in this case are Luis José Torres Asencio and Steven Lausell Recurt, of the Legal Assistance Clinic at the Law School of the Inter-American University.