FEMA ends year with close to 400 project obligations per month
By The Star Staff
In the face of the obstacles of 2020 – earthquakes, floods and a pandemic that slowed the island’s productive sector – the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) ended the year with nearly 400 project obligations per month, paving the way for a total of $13.4 billion in recovery funds.
To date, the Hurricane Maria recovery operations on the island have produced the largest amount of approved disaster funding for a disaster in FEMA’s history.
“This year’s challenges further strengthened our commitment to the people of Puerto Rico. Our sense of duty and willingness is unstoppable, and we are proud to be able to help our island during this historic recovery,” said José Baquero Tirado, the federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, in a written statement.
While commemorating the three-year mark for Hurricane Maria, the agency awarded the two projects with the largest amount of funds in FEMA history. The nearly $9.5 billion obligation for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority aims to move permanent work projects forward in several facilities that provide service to 1.5 million residential, commercial and industrial clients. Likewise, over $2 billion was obligated for the Puerto Rico Department of Education to address damage in more than 5,300 buildings, pavilions and recreational areas, among other sites, in more than 1,100 schools, the statement reads.
The director of the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience, Ottmar Chávez, said the Puerto Rico government has adapted to address all the pressing situations that arose.
“We are very pleased to have achieved the largest allocation in the history of FEMA for the reconstruction of the electrical system and the Department of Education,” he added in the statement. “We have also achieved million-dollar allocations to address the crises of hurricanes Irma and Maria, the earthquakes and the COVID-19 pandemic. The work has been hard, but we have been diligent.”
Similarly, the municipalities will benefit from a $1.2 billion injection for 3,741 projects for roads, public buildings, parks, sports facilities, community centers and other essential facilities for residents. Many of these spaces are used for community activities and as distribution centers during emergencies.
Although natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes cannot be avoided, there are ways to take measures to minimize their effects.
To date, nearly $240 million has been awarded for this purpose. In addition, about $53.4 million was obligated under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to strengthen facilities across the island, like at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. In the first phase of the project for the largest international travel hub in the Caribbean, designs are underway for an electrical system that will reduce the disruption of services if a failure occurs.
Another $18 million was allocated to update and enforce building code guidelines and compliance.
Another FEMA priority this year were projects that seek to preserve the island’s cultural heritage. The National Archives and the Cabezas de San Juan natural reserve in Fajardo, for example, were approved at $7.4 million and $701,300, respectively.
The agency reinforced its commitment to the environment by performing several assessments of the Camuy caves, a natural treasure of internationally recognized value. Experts will prepare a cost estimate and make other recommendations that will improve the infrastructure of the Espiral, Catedral and Clara caves. The goal is to reopen this natural formation as it represents an important income for the Camuy, Lares and Hatillo municipalities.
“Over the past three years, we have obligated over $19.5 billion for costs related to hurricanes Irma and Maria under our Public Assistance program,” Baquero Tirado said. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to the island.”