Dorado - Five years after the beginning of the La PlataRiver channeling project, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González announced yesterday the beginning of the third phase in July at a cost of $9.47 million.
The project - once the six phases are completed - would put an end to the flooding problem that has been affecting sectors of Toa Alta, Toa Baja, and Dorado for decades, as Hurricane María revealed when communities were left under water.
"This project is designed to protect the life and property of the people who live near the river, in addition to developing recreational facilities and mitigating the environment," said the governor at a press conference detailing the project.
This third phase, which would last more than a year, involves the construction of 500 linear feet of protection to stop channel erosion and strengthen bridge bases. Once completed, they would begin with the construction of four ducts, improvements within 1.58 miles of the channel, and the construction of 3.14 miles of earthen levees, followed by replacement of the La Virgencita bridge on PR-2 and l improvements within 0.45 miles of the infrastructure.
The sixth and final phase would consist of the construction of 1.31 miles of the dike, 1.43 miles of the channel, and the relocation of the Super Aqueduct pipeline. ("This project") brings some relief to the people of Puerto Rico in times of emergency. We are in the middle of summer, in hurricane season, with this project, those floods are going to be a thing of the past," said Resident Commissioner.
After the announcement, both González and Vázquez Garced visited the works to control the flooding problem. The mayor of Toa Baja, Bernardo "Betito" Márquez; Toa Alta, Clemente "Chito" Agosto; and Dorado, Carlos López joined them.
Four of the six phases will become a reality thanks to the Federal Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which grants funds and authority to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to address the impacts caused by natural disasters.
"The project will serve to protect the municipalities of Dorado, Toa Baja, and Toa Alta from flooding, and once the project is completed it will represent about $12 million in economic and annual benefits," the governor said.
The entire project must be completed between 2024 and 2027. "We don't do this for fun. We're doing it to protect people and property," said Tim Murphy, deputy director of the Jacksonville District Corps of Engineers.
Murphy explained that this is the largest investment on the island since the 1960s. Today, the agency has more than 25 projects on its agenda with a $2.5 billion investment.
The dredging of the San Juan bay and the Puerto Nuevo River, as well as the coastal erosion study being conducted throughout the island and that began in Rincón and Loíza, are among those projects Murphy mentioned. Meanwhile, the flood control project in the Salud Creek in San Germán has been completed.
González said the Margarita Creek flood control project has been completed and will benefit Kennedy and Bechara.
"Considering all the projects we have built, all the infrastructure we have developed, it only totals $1.5 billion. This $2.5 billion will allow us to build what I consider infrastructure generation in about five or ten years," Murphy said.
Despite the urgency this other projects demand, the official stressed they have to keep the quality and consistency levels that characterize the Corps of Engineers. "Our projects survived Hurricane María... because we invested time and energy in developing good designs and making decisions," he said.
He also highlighted the agency's ability to adapt to changes. As a result of Hurricane María, he said, they had to update their requirements and design codes.
Recognizing the work
For the Mayor of Dorado, this project is the most important public work in his municipality today. "There are thousands and thousands of houses, businesses and people affected every time there is flooding," he said.
The mayor of Toa Baja, one of the hard-hit municipalities by flooding during Hurricane María, highlighted that this extensive construction project represents leaving behind the uncertainty of residents in places like Levittown, which ended up under water.
"Hurricanes, pandemics, and earthquakes... don't choose sides or people, it just happens, and if we don't work together to do what needs to be done, we should be ashamed. We are here to make a difference for the people that need us," said Márquez.
August also stressed the importance of teamwork. "If we unite we can move forward, putting aside the political differences we have because everyone has their ideal and we respect that, but we can have a better Puerto Rico," he said.
González added that as part of an agreement between the Corps of Engineers, the University of Puerto Rico, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP, Spanish acronym), the archaeological remains found during the excavation process will be protected by the academic institution.
"They will be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations," the Commissioner said.