Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, announced Friday a new U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Task Force (TF VIPR) that will begin work on July 20 and will speed up projects that are a product of $3 billion in federal funds.
“The main objective of the Corps of Engineers is to create a solid infrastructure and provide solutions to possible natural disasters so that we have a safe Puerto Rico, where our life and property are not threatened by nature’s unpredictability. Now that we have secured historic locations, USACE is able to complete these projects,” the Resident Commissioner said during a press conference at the former Tropical Medicine Building in San Juan.
Seeking to relieve the Jacksonville District of significant workloads, particularly in Puerto Rico Civil Works, a task force to oversee programs and projects on the island was developed and approved on April 14.
The team will be led by Engineer Jacqueline Keiser pending the appointment of a full-time colonel, who will report to the South Atlantic Division.
According to Brig. Gen. Daniel Hibner of the South Atlantic Division, the creation of this division has not happened in 40 years. He said that last January he had asked his team to consider a task force to assist in completing programs in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“This effort has the full support of LT. Gen Spellmon as the Chief of Engineers and Mr. Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works,” Hibner said.
González, a member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over this agency, said she will work closely with the task force to ensure these projects, which would impact more than 30 communities, are completed.
Between 2018 and 2020, Congress passed several supplemental funding bills (BBA 18, DRSAA, and BIL) providing authorities and funds across USACE and particularly for the South Atlantic Division (SAD).
She also highlighted that the team will address issues related to flood risk management, coastal protection, Culebra cleanup, and coastal erosion studies, among others.
While previously Puerto Rico reported to Jacksonville, this task force will now help speed up reconstruction works and communication. “More people will be hired. There are already about 70 (employees), and we want to reach a maximum of 150,” González said.
Among the largest projects, engineer Alberto González indicated that the Flood Risk Management Project in Puerto Nuevo River, with a federal allocation of $1.5 billion, is expected to be completed between 2033 and 2034. The project will be awarded late this year or early in 2024.
The San Juan Harbor Improvement Project ($45.5 million), the Caño Martín Peña Ecosystem Restoration Project in San Juan ($163.2 million); the Río de la Plata Flood Flood Risk Management Project ($485.2 million) are also on the list along with 14 other initiatives.
“I wish this could happen with FEMA projects. I am very concerned about the permitting program, and it would be good to work on a project to speed up permits amid emergencies,” the Commissioner said.