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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

FEMA allocates flood mitigation funds to three towns

By The Star Staff

The communities of Barceloneta, Patillas and Villalba have been vulnerable to excessive flooding in recent years as climate change has increased the risk of flooding, while antiquated water control systems offer little protection against torrential rains.

To help these municipalities build more efficient flood control infrastructure, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Sunday it allocated nearly $1.5 million through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). The funds will fully fund the cost of the initial phase, which consists of geotechnical studies and engineering designs required prior to construction.

Construction projects will incorporate nature-based solutions to repair vulnerable water drainage systems, an approach that includes bioengineering and other low-impact development solutions that are incorporated into the project design to deliver a wide range of economic, ecological and social benefits.

“These projects will create a lasting impact on these communities and will be a model for others to follow,” Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José G. Baquero said. “By using environmentally focused engineering designs we are in tune with the times, addressing the challenge of climate change while helping to build resilient communities.”

In Barceloneta, torrential rain periods can disrupt the daily lives of citizens, to the point that cranes must be used to rescue drivers from flooded streets, and residents are unable to enter and leave their homes due to runoff, said Yadira Rodríguez Cruz, director of Barceloneta’s Office of Emergency Management.

To lessen the impact of excessive flooding in its communities, the municipality of Barceloneta received nearly $579,000 for the initial phase of its flood control project. Mitigation repairs include the installation of 3,700 feet of reinforced concrete pipeline parallel to the existing pipeline in downtown Barceloneta. Total repairs are estimated at nearly $1.9 million.

“Improving the stormwater sewer system is critical because it manages the proper control and flow of stormwater runoff separately from wastewater,” Rodríguez said. “This will prevent urban flooding and drivers and residents facing emergency situations due to flooded streets.”

Meanwhile, in the community of La Vega in Villalba, residents still harbor fears of flooding in their homes, Nancy Martínez Marcial said. “The uncertainty that every time it starts to rain we don’t know if the street is going to flood. We are worried that at some point the water could get into the houses.”

FEMA allocated $213,000 for the initial phase of the project to design and build surface and subsurface drainage infrastructure and streambank stabilization along the banks of the Jacaguas River in La Vega. The construction phase of the project is estimated at nearly $1.6 million.

In addition, FEMA approved about $702,000 to begin a mitigation project in the small Recio sector of Patillas. The project will reduce flood risks and provide safe access to about 250 families. Construction is estimated at over $6.2 million and consists of the expansion of an open concrete channel that collects and discharges runoff water from the community into a nearby river.

To date, FEMA has awarded over $18.1 million for 28 projects from the HMGP program to decrease flood risks.

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