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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

FEMA assigns $5.7 million to restore natural-recreational areas

The historic lighthouse at Las Cabezas de San Juan natural reserve in Fajardo. The Puerto Rico Conservation Trust has approved over $701,000 for repairs to the building, observation deck and boardwalk, as well as mitigation measures to provide protection from water infiltration, soil erosion and wind, at the lighthouse.

By The Star Staff

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded $5.7 million to repair recreational and natural areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017, according to an agency statement issued Sunday.

Aldo Escabí is a frequent visitor to the Cabezas de San Juan nature reserve in Fajardo. He enjoys the contact with nature and the landscapes, since from there he can appreciate the old structure of the lighthouse, different small islands and even the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra.

Escabí said it is important to preserve the nature reserve’s facilities because “they foster a sense of adventure and raise awareness among new generations about how to protect our natural resources.”

FEMA allocated nearly $5.7 million to address damage following Hurricane Maria to repair diverse recreational and natural areas to support their preservation, along with tourism and the economic development of adjacent communities.

“Puerto Ricans frequent local events and take excursions that allow us to enjoy diverse cultural offerings throughout the country, especially this holiday season,” Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José Baquero said. “The agency continues to support municipalities, agencies and nonprofit entities in order to rebuild these spaces for the physical and emotional health of the communities, while supporting local merchants.”

Las Cabezas de San Juan is part of the group of natural areas that has funding from the agency. The Puerto Rico Conservation Trust has approved over $701,000 for repairs to the lighthouse building, observation deck and boardwalk, including mitigation measures to protect the facilities from infiltration, soil erosion and wind. The nonprofit has already completed repairs to the administration office, visitor’s pavilion and other areas with over $24,000 in additional obligations. Construction on the lighthouse and observation platform is underway, while repairs to the boardwalk are in the planning process.

While in Fajardo, residents and visitors can also enjoy sunbathing and the warm waters of the Seven Seas resort, which is currently in the bidding process in order to rebuild gazebos, a camping area and trailers, lifeguard towers and lighting, among other work, after an allocation of nearly $2.7 million.

Further south, the Punta Tuna Lighthouse in Maunabo will also benefit from improvements. The impact of Hurricane Maria caused damage to the 150-year-old historic building and FEMA granted nearly $660,000 to paint walls and ceilings. The infrastructure will also be repaired to match all aspects, including design, color, equipment and labor.

Furthermore, in the north of the island in Vega Baja is the Tortuguero Lagoon, which offers open spaces with gazebos and seven miles of trails for community recreation. The federal agency allocated nearly $486,000 to the municipality to repair the nature reserve from water damage to its buildings and hiking trails.

Vega Baja resident Ramses Rivera Sánchez said that visiting the lagoon brings a sense of peace and helps to recharge one’s batteries.

“Spending a day in this place is to experience happiness and respite from the daily routine,” he said.

Rivera Sánchez added that the reserve was greatly damaged by the passage of Hurricane Maria and he believes that its preservation is important because, in addition to being the habitat of many species, it fosters physical activity and community togetherness.

“It is important to take action to remodel these facilities,” he said. “There is a lot of potential to take advantage of for the well-being of the entire community and the country.”

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