FEMA earmarks permanent work funds for all 78 island towns

By John McPhaul

The recovery of the island after the impact of Hurricane Maria has reached a milestone now that all 78 municipalities have funds earmarked for permanent work. This will allow for the reconstruction of 3,635 municipal projects such as roads and bridges, public buildings, and the rehabilitation of parks and recreational facilities in the communities, among other projects, according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) press release issued Thursday.

“Each one of these projects represents an opportunity to rebuild stronger and stimulate the economy,” said José Baquero Tirado, the federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “We remain focused on helping our municipalities and communities in their long-term recovery.”

Roads and bridges, one of the areas most affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria, account for the largest amount of approved funds. To date, FEMA has assigned over $557 million to help fund more than 1,700 transportation infrastructure projects for municipal roads.

Also, recent grants include about $612,000 to the municipality of Juncos for repairs to the Community Center in the Lirios neighborhood that consists of three buildings. Juncos Mayor Alfredo “Papo” Alejandro Carrión said the center is a multipurpose space that serves several sectors of the municipality and is used as a shelter, if necessary.

“With this assignment we will begin to work on rehabilitating the structure so that it can once again serve our citizens and in times of emergency,” he said.

Likewise, the obligation covers repairs to the municipal landfill in the Gurabo Abajo neighborhood, which serves as a final disposal facility for seven other municipalities in the eastern area. Re-establishing various waste control and management measures at the site is imperative to protect the public health of the municipality’s residents.

Other areas that will be transformed as part of the recovery efforts are some 1,237 parks and recreational facilities, such as baseball stadiums, basketball courts and athletic tracks throughout Puerto Rico. This represents an injection of more than $383 million for projects that allow communities to carry out sports and community outreach events.

Among the communities that benefited from those funds is the Coto Sur neighborhood in Manatí’s Sabana Sector. The municipality was approved for nearly $551,000 for repairs to the infrastructure of a baseball park, a basketball court and a community center for the benefit of 8,000 residents, the press release said. Of these funds, over $143,000 is destined for hazard mitigation measures to prevent similar damage that could pose a threat to the site in the future.

“This is very good news for all municipalities, particularly after so many challenges they continue to face in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria,” said Ottmar Chávez, executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience (COR3). “This comprehensive allocation will strengthen the health and infrastructure sectors, as well as the communities that have contributed so much to the municipalities. We thank FEMA for remaining committed to Puerto Rico.”

Meanwhile, over $188 million was approved for 640 projects to repair public buildings that provide essential services, such as hospitals, police stations and even buildings of historical value.

A grant of about $1.8 million to the island municipality of Vieques will help repair several public buildings, including the Office of Emergency Management, the Municipal Police, the Electronic Library and the Villa Borinquen community and recycling center. To make the structures more weather resistant, about $87,000 of the obligation was allocated for mitigation measures.

To date, FEMA has obligated nearly $19.4 billion for costs related to hurricanes Irma and Maria, including projects to help rebuild infrastructure throughout Puerto Rico. FEMA works with COR3 through the agency’s Public Assistance program to obligate recovery funds to private nonprofit organizations, municipalities and agencies of the Puerto Rico government.

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