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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Resident commissioner urges US House panel to prioritize unfinished PR water projects

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón

By The Star Staff

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said Tuesday that she made recommendations on water projects the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) should prioritize because many of the agency’s projects in Puerto Rico have been pending completion for some time.

González Colón brought the matter to the attention of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, which is preparing recommendations for the drafting of the next Water Resources Development Act.

“The expectation is that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee evaluates these priorities and requests and makes its decision as to what recommendations to put in the version of the legislation that is finally presented,” González Colón said in a written statement.

“This [has been done because] Congress is in the process of drafting the next reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA),” she added. “With regard to this legislation, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee asked its members, including the resident commissioner, for their recommendations on language, policy, and authorizations in areas concerning the Corps of Engineers in our districts.”

The preliminary list presented by González Colón to the committee includes the following:

1. A request for language allowing the Corps of Engineers to credit all work by non-federal sponsors or non-federal partners included in the feasibility study. This improves the matching agreement between non-federal sponsors retroactive to 2015.

2. Request for language on project progress in Puerto Rico, requiring a quarterly report to Congress on projects approved for construction and funded by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, Public Law 115-123, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Public Law 117 -58, located in Puerto Rico, and

3. Greater San Juan Coastal Storm Damage Protection Project Authorization -- Feasibility Study Completed, Chief Engineer’s Report Submitted 9/21/2021

The resident commissioner also discussed reauthorizations or projects previously authorized and funded at least partially or approved by USACE under the 2018 BBA Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA) disaster supplement, but requiring reauthorizations. These include the Río Guanajibo – originally authorized under WRDA 1999 – $60 million allocated from BBA 2018 – validation report approved Oct. 4, 2021; the Río Nigua – originally authorized under WRDA 1999. BBA 2018 allocation: $60 million – validation report expected in June 2022; the Río Grande de Loíza (Gurabo/Caguas) – authorized under WRDA 1992 – initially allocated $250 million proposed from BBA 2018 – request reauthorization and request validation report; the approval to start Río Guayanilla – management report signed Aug. 15, 2020 with an estimate of $154.3 million; the order for a feasibility study so that USACE can assume responsibility for improvements to the port of Yabucoa; the request to double the maximum value limit and the global budget for the so-called continuing authority projects, commonly referred to as CAP projects, under sections 205, 208 and 14 of the flood control laws, and to give greater flexibility in the cost/benefit calculation to facilitate the development of projects in small communities; the request for an amendment to adjust for inflation the current limit of $455,000 for projects in which the municipality is exempt from contributing matching funds; and the request for attention to projects and studies that have been pending for years and that have been identified as a priority by USACE, the commonwealth Department of Natural and Environmental Resources or other agencies.

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