Neighbors in eight municipalities around the Martín Peña canal, in San Juan, renewed their hopes to dredge that body of water following the recent allocation of $750,000 in federal funds to execute the first phase of the works.
It is, in essence, a project on which rests the expectations for a better quality of life for the 26,000 area residents.
These people, who have been internationally acclaimed for their successful self management model, are conscious that, without funding, the dredging will remain a big dream. That is why, they appreciate every funding they receive, because they come closer to their goal of ending the problems of continuous flooding, accumulation of trash, and disease, among other.
Yesterday, community leaders from Israel-Bitumul, Parada 27, Las Monjas, Barrio Obrero San Ciprián y Oeste, Barrio Obrero Marina, Península de Cantera, Buena Vista Santurce, and Buena Vista Hato Rey met with state and federal officials, who lobbied before Congress to grant the funds for the canal.
“The funds not only make us happy, but they also renew the hope that the dredging project is under way. We know the hard situation the Country is experiencing, but these funds reaffirm the commitment in us,” said Carmen Febres, president of G-8, an organization that groups the communities.
“This gives us a sight of relief by knowing that efforts are being made to dredge the canal. We are happy to see that so many years of efforts are finally paying off,” said, for his part, Aileen Morales, leader of Parada 27.
The official delegation was headed by resident commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, who highlighted that dredging the creek has been in the making for 20 plus years.
The group also included Brenda Calvente, project manager for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), who explained the $750,000 will be intended mainly for land surveying and environmental research.
“We are going to award land surveying and environmental engineering contracts, because we are talking about a large project. The canal is three miles long, from the Roberto Clemente Sports Complex, in Carolina, to Santurce. We are working in the design phase,” she said.
Calvente mentioned that the cost for the first phase of dredging –not counting construction– is $2.8 million, and assured that USACE will have the funds available for next fiscal year.
The second phase, on the other hand, includes three main contracts, which funding is still not secured. The first of these contracts, worth $10 million, contemplates preparing an area in which sediments and any waste taken from the canal would be processed, and which would be located in about 10 acres of land in the Roberto Clemente Sports Complex. The second contract, for $25 million, goes to protecting the bridges at the end of the creek. The third contract, totaling $100 million, is for the dredging as such.
“Dredging includes the construction of walls, of between 34 and 39 feet, to protect and ensure that the width as establish does not collapse,” she explained.
According to Calvente, the total cost of dredging is estimated at $240 million, and the works should be completed by 2025. Construction is slated to begin in 2019, but the intention of USACE is to push that forward to next year.
“We want to expedite the formalities to start receiving the construction funds as soon as possible,” she said.
Following on the same line, Mario Núñez, former president of G-8 and leader of Las Monjas, said that completing the design phase in the shortest time possible puts the communities in a better position to compete for the dredging project to be chosen as “new start” project of USACE.
This designation, he added, would guarantee recurring allocations of funds for the construction phase.
“Any contribution that gets to the project is a step in favor of the eight communities in the canal,” Núñez pointed, while he thanked the presence of state and federal officials.
“The fact that these people visited our streets, validates the commitment they made to us during the election campaign and the manifestos they signed to advance the struggle in achieving the dredging,” he said.
Meanwhile, the executive director of the Caño Martín Peña ENLACE Project, Lyvia Rodríguez, expounded that the commitment by officials, added to the leadership of communities, make it possible for the dredging project to “forge ahead,” regardless of the Country’s economic situation.
He also highlighted that dredging “is a principal component of a bigger project,” which has included the relocation of 600 families “in a fair and dignified manner” to safer homes. It is estimated that an additional 376 families will be relocated, plus any other that may be require to give way to the infrastructure works.
“But many other projects have been developed here. A bridge was built on Barbosa avenue, the San José sanitation network was enhanced, and there are three other infrastructure projects designed, waiting for funds. It’s many pieces moving all at once,” said Rodríguez.
Once dredging is completed, the waterway will connect the entire estuary of the San Juan Bay, having recovered over 582 acres.
Likewise, the area will turn into a “hot spot” for fishing, given the confluence of sweet and salt water; and different industries may flourish, from kayak tours to aqua taxis.
“Canal residents have to live with the dire consequences resulting from the lack of dredging, but we think this project will give the city a whole new face. This project is important for all of Puerto Rico; it will contribute toward economic development during hard times,” Rodríguez noted.
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