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The US Corps of Engineers managed to rent, free of charge, a 42-acre space at the former Ramey Base in Aguadilla, which could mean saving up to $ 3 million.

This, after making use of a 40 year-old federal provision that indicates that the federal government can use these facilities for free in case of a national emergency.

A spokesman of the Corps of Engineers confirmed that it is the "Quitclaim Deed", of 1978, when the government of the United States completed the transfer of what was the "Base of the Ramey Air Force" in Aguadilla to the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (PRPA).

The document resurfaced in the past weeks, in the midst of a negotiation by the Corps of Engineers for the rental of that space, in order to store materials for the repair of the power grid of Puerto Rico.

Since they began working on the island after hurricane María, the Corps of Engineers used 42.2 out of the 154 acres that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had rented at the Rafael Hernández airport in Aguadilla, which is under the PRPA.

However, the Corps of Engineers had to start considering the rental of that space after FEMA began to reduce certain areas of operation and told the Corps of Engineers that they would have to rent their own space.

But the real estate specialist of the Corps of Engineers, Víctor Otero, told El Nuevo Dia that, as soon as they started talking about numbers, difficulties arose.

According to Otero, PRPA wanted to rent them the space at about 49 cents per square foot, which was the same price granted to FEMA and that represented a reduction in relation to the 55 cents that a regulation of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required.

But at a time when the federal agency was trying to make the most out of its budget, the Corps of Engineers believed that the price was too high to use a property that had been out of service for a long time.

"Our first attempt was trying to introduce ourselves to them (the Ports Authority) and let them know that we were here to energize the island, for the people of Puerto Rico ... and we wanted to see how they could help us," said Otero.

"They insisted they had to follow the FAA regulation," he added.

Otero, whose Puerto Rican father was in the US Armed Forces, knew about the military past of the airport. While, for previous work, Otero recalled that the transfers of military bases usually contain clauses to protect the investment of the federal government in these facilities.

"We called the FAA and they did not know anything about the 'deed', which seemed strange to me, but we kept searching," commented Otero.

"We searched and searched on the Internet, but we could not find it, but in a team effort we found the 'Quitclaim Deed' of 1978," he added.

One of the provisions in the transfer document states that " during any national emergency declared by the President of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA or the Congress thereof, including any existing national emergency, the Government shall have the right to make exclusive or nonexclusive use and have exclusive or nonexclusive control and possessions without charge, of the airport, or of such portion thereof... exclusive possession or control, during the period of such use, possession, or control, and shall be obligated to contribute a reasonable share... ".

Otero said that they immediately called the FAA, which validated the content of the document and allowed them to continue.

The Corps of Engineers did not reveal exactly where they found it, but upon observing the copy sent to El Nuevo Día it came out that it is identified as a document of the Property Registry of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice, in the Aguadilla Section.

The spokesman estimated that in would save the Corps of Engineers between $ 1 million and $ 3 million, depending on how long the mission lasts.

"It was like finding a rough diamond," he said. "We can use it until the mission is over," he added.

He explained that there they have located "trailers" where  line up workers stay overnight and they store materials, such as posts and cables they take to the areas where they are needed.


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