[FACT CHECK] Pedro Pierluisi, about his son’s properties in Guánica: “Everything’s legal”

Verdict: False

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The docks have no land access other than through the properties of the Governor's son.

Photo taken from Facebook

When Governor Pedro Pierluisi assured that “everything’s legal” in relation to the permits and operation of two short-term rental properties in Guánica Bay, which are part of his son’s Anthony Pierluisi Rojo’s businesses, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA, in Spanish) had not issued a “concession,” a kind of permit required by Regulation 4860 for the use of docks in public domain areas that are promoted as one of the property’s amenities.

To transfer to a private or government entity “the long-term use of maritime-terrestrial public domain assets that entails the installation or use of permanent constructions,” the DRNA must issue a concession. The docks on Pierluisi Rojo’s property are not among the projects that have DRNA concessions, according to the data the agency sent to the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI).

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), through its spokesperson, Luis Deyá, also confirmed to the CPI that “the USACE has not been able to locate an application or permit” for any of the docks in question. Construction on submerged land needs to comply, for example, with the federal Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, which prohibits the unauthorized obstruction or alteration of any navigable waters of the United States and its territories.

Through his legal representative, Leonardo Aldridge, Pierluisi Rojo stated that the docks that connect to the short-term rental complex Mary Lee’s by The Sea are not part of his properties. In statements to El Nuevo Día, the lawyer identified the docks as a “public structure” and that “they don’t belong to or are managed by Silver Beach, LLC,” a company registered with the State Department under Pierluisi Rojo’s name.

However, unless entered by sea, the docks have no land access other than through the governor’s son’s properties. Also, the rental offers for this complex posted on the web do include them as part of the experience that is rented at a base cost of almost $700 per night.

The complex consists of two units, which are promoted as Tu casa at Mary Lee’s by The Sea and Villa Pacifica at Mary Lee’s by The Sea and was purchased in November 2021 at a total cost of $1.8 million.

The cement sidewalks in the backyard of the two buildings interconnect with the two docks, and part of these structures also exceed the limits of public domain assets, as can be seen in the satellite images of the complex included in the property registry. The same happens with a wooden deck located on rocks at the edge of the sea. Both the sidewalk and the deck existed before 2021, when Pierluisi Rojo bought the property.

Satellite photo from 2017.
Screenshot of Planning Board map

However, when comparing images of the complex for 2017 and 2018, with subsequent images, they show that someone restored the area after the 2020 earthquakes, although public records do not show any permit for that work or that the previous nor the current owners have a current concession from the DRNA for the private enjoyment of that area, which is a Puerto Rico public asset.

In his reaction to a complaint filed by Carlos Díaz Sánchez — who is running for a Senate seat for the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, in Spanish) — for possible legal and regulatory violations in this complex, Pierluisi Rojo publicly denied that the docks were part of his property.

This statement is different from the permit request made by Pierluisi Rojo’s short-term rental company on August 24, 2022. In that request, which sought to obtain an environmental recommendation, the docks are recognized as part of the property’s permit.

“The facility has two existing docks, which will remain unchanged. The main proposed format is to keep a multi-unit design with shared areas between units,” according to the first phase of the proposed remodeling project, at a cost of $750,000.

Furthermore, the use of the docks is essential for the type of business that Pierluisi Rojo promotes, as  proposed to the OGPe when it says that “the property has recently been acquired by West Indies Vacation Rentals (another Pierluisi Rojo-owned company) with the vision of remodeling it into an eco-conscious themed water sports destination with a pool or pools overlooking the Caribbean Sea and a full inventory of water sports equipment to enjoy its surroundings.”

In 2015, former owner Susan Lee Álvarez Grossman received an environmental compliance determination from the OGPe through a categorical exclusion for one of the complex’s units. In addition, she proposed submitting to the DRNA a certification of demarcation and endorsement for the concession of an “existing dock for embarkation and disembarkation of people in Aurora Cay, Guilligan Island.” The request was granted for one year and expired in 2016, according to OGPe. There is no renewal in the OGPe digital files.

After hurricanes Irma and María in 2017, Álvarez Grossman requested a consultation from the OGPe for certification of demarcation and dock concession on July 31, 2018, for the other unit she owned. The request was denied.

A few months later, Álvarez Grossman  again submitted a demarcation and concession request to OGPe to legalize the dock structure that connects with this property, and it was  denied again.

How did they remodel without permits?

The only approved permit was requested on May 9, 2022, under the administration of Silver Beach, LLC, by electrical engineer Eduardo Dominguez, to increase the electrical load “of existing facilities to be remodeled” at Mary Lee’s by The Sea.

On August 24, 2024, Silver Beach, LLC submitted another permit application, but OGPe filed it without approving it. It was filed because the applicants did not submit the documentation the OGPe required, the agency’s spokesperson, Brenda Vázquez Colón, confirmed to the CPI.

The proponent told the OGPe that the construction project proposed would not have “a significant environmental impact.” The proposed work was: “improvements to an existing facility, including the construction of new amenities, such as a swimming pool, restrooms, and boardwalks.”

The August 2022 permit application indicates that to minimize any impact to water bodies in the area, “effective erosion control and sedimentation prevention measures, as well as to control fugitive dust emissions, would be implemented during construction. These measures will include but are not limited to installing synthetic mesh (silt fence) and hay bales and/or any other control measure deemed necessary to protect the stormwater systems.”

The document adds that “after Hurricane María, the [previous] owner partially opened the hotel until the earthquake happened on January 7, 2020, when due to the damage suffered it was permanently closed.” The permit requested by Silver Beach included structural and aesthetic improvements to the hotel located in the Punta Jacinto sector in Guánica, in the southern coast.

The document acknowledges that damage to the property led to its closure and the need for structural improvements. The property is offered as a luxury short-term rental without it being clear how the repairs were made that allow its commercial use if there is no construction permit granted for either of the two properties that comprise the complex.

The PPD candidate, who was previously a senator for the New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish), said after the complaint was filed on April 16, “they left at that. They haven’t contacted me at all.”

Notable changes in infrastructure adjacent to the public domain

When comparing the images published between 2010 and 2018, prior to the purchase of the complex, with the current ones, it is notable that multiple changes have been made to the infrastructure, including some of those that were in the permit application that OGPe denied, and so, for which there was no permit to rebuild or improve.

At least on the outside, there are contrasts between the previous and current state of the oceanfront wooden deck that serves as a sort of terrace. If a completely new one was not built — which is what it seems — at least it is evident that a new staircase was put in place and that the railings were changed, and metal turnbuckles were added. The wood of the terrace and its symmetry with the general design of both rental units and with the deck of the dock show that construction was done there.

If, as its owners admit in the documents submitted to the OGPe, “the facility has two existing docks” and neither of them has a concession from the DRNA, as confirmed by the data provided by the agency, the managers of Tu casa at Mary Lee’s by The Sea and Villa Pacifica at Mary Lee’s by The Sea are taking advantage of public domain assets without authorization.

Likewise, if, as they acknowledge in that same document, the property was forced to close in 2020 due to damage to the structure caused by the earthquakes in the area, the construction works that facilitated its opening and rental were done without the OGPe’s permission, according to the agency’s file of the remodeling request presented in 2022, when Pierluisi Rojo’s corporation already owned the properties.

Neither the DRNA nor the United States Army Corps of Engineers have documentation that authorizes the use of docks or remodeling in the area.

Therefore, the Governor’s statement that in this case “everything’s legal” is false.

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