Peter Gaynor, jefe de la Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias. (GFR Media)
Peter Gaynor. (GFR Media)

Washington - The White House authorized yesterday $3.7 billion to rebuild the Aqueducts and Sewers Authority (PRASA) facilities damaged by Hurricane María.

In total, the permanent reconstruction of PRASA structures, under section 428 of the Stafford Act - which requires fixed cost estimates - will require an investment of $4.1 billion, according to a statement by President Donald Trump.

The government of Puerto Rico will have to contribute $400 million for reconstruction projects -about 10 percent- although, in the case of the repair of energy and educational facilities, the agreement has allowed separating funds from previous allocations made under the Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR).

“Matching funds can come from CDBG-DR,” said Washington Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, who, like Governor Pedro Pierluisi, was informed yesterday by outgoing FEMA chief Peter Gaynor about President Trump’s approval of the agreement between the federal government and the government of Puerto Rico.

The funds approved to repair PRASA facilities will “help rebuild Puerto Rico’s water and wastewater treatment plants, pumping stations, dams, and reservoirs. This is one of the largest Public Assistance grants in the history of FEMA,” Trump said.

“Now it remains to do the work,” Governor Pierluisi tweeted.

Commissioner González said that “these funds are necessary to build a modern and efficient infrastructure for our Puerto Rican people.” She stressed this represents an opportunity for PRASA has to leave behind problems such as the loss of water and service interruptions.

The $3.7 billion to rebuild PRASA’s infrastructure joins the $11.524 billion in new federal funds approved in September for the permanent repair of structures of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the Department of Education.

Following the catastrophe caused by Hurricane María, which left nearly $100 billion in damage and 2,975 deaths, the federal government promised about $67.775 billion for the island´s recovery and reconstruction process. But disbursements only represent a third of that total, some $23.177 billion, according to an analysis by El Nuevo Día.

The White House said that the funds granted to Puerto Rico to permanently rebuild public facilities are only surpassed by those previously allocated to repair structures damaged by Hurricane Katrina (2005), mainly in Louisiana, and Storm Sandy (2012), in New York and New Jersey.

On December 24, Ottmar Chávez Piñero, then executive director of Puerto Rico Office of Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resiliency (COR3), said that FEMA had extended the deadline for reaching agreements under section 428 to December 31, 2021.

Originally, those agreements were supposed to be reached in October 2019.

In mid-December, Resident Commissioner González indicated that an agreement had been reached on funds for PRASA and that it would be announced by former Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced and the White House coordinator for Puerto Rico reconstruction, Rear Admiral Peter Brown.

But Vázquez Garced ended her term without announcing the final agreement on the appropriations for PRASA, confirmed now by the White House.