FEMA obligates funds to restore historic structures

By John McPhaul


In the past three years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obligated funds so that iconic structures with historic value in Puerto Rico can regain their luster, the agency said in a press release Wednesday.

During this time, FEMA has obligated over $360 million to municipalities, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and the Office of Historic Preservation for repairs to public buildings and parks, which include hospitals, government offices, educational centers, and sports complexes, as well as several points of interest throughout the island.

The effort includes funds for the Guajataca Tunnel in Isabela, a project with great economic impact in its area since it attracts about 7,000 visitors a year.

Given the complexity of the project repairs, FEMA allocated $47,000 to perform architectural and engineering studies to repair the tunnel permanently.

Built in 1904, the tunnel connects the towns of Isabela and Quebradillas, and is a remnant of Puerto Rico’s sugarcane era, when a railroad system spanned the island.

Similarly, a grant of about $22,000 was approved for the renowned Fortín Conde Mirasol in Vieques.

The funds will be used to repair and replace the contents of the structure, which includes a collection of paper artwork containing silkscreen prints, maps and posters of activities and festivals held at the fort.

Also planned is the repair of a wagon wheel from the beginning of the last century that was used to move sugar cane and a wooden sculpture, as well as the replacement of 15 exhibit cases.

“This first part of the two phases of assistance expected for Fortín Conde Mirasol paves the way for the recovery and improvements we need,” said Carlos Ruiz Cortés, executive director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. “We will follow up on every step and support in this process to rescue this piece of historical and cultural heritage of Vieques and Puerto Rico.”

In the municipality of Rincón, meanwhile, funds were awarded for the Punta Higuero Lighthouse. Some $20,000 is designated for architectural and engineering design costs needed to repair the site. Once the technical studies are completed, plans will include the replacement of the wood deck, lighting fixtures, ceiling tiles and other repairs.

Since 1993, the lighthouse has included a passive park with a maritime museum, cafeteria, meeting areas and a lookout point for whale watching and a view of Desecheo Island. It is currently run by the municipal administration and is visited by thousands of tourists every year.

To date, FEMA has obligated over $7.2 billion for costs related to hurricanes Irma and Maria, including projects to help rebuild infrastructure throughout Puerto Rico.

“Roughly 1,200 local staff are leading the recovery efforts and play a key role in moving recovery forward,” said the FEMA press release. “The Agency is part of the transformation and revival of the island, a process that is becoming more evident every day and that will benefit the island’s residents and its future generations.”