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  • The San Juan Daily Star

US-PR economic dialogue Part 2: Infrastructure, Energy & Resilience

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

By The Star Staff

In the area of Infrastructure, Energy, and Resilience, participants in this week’s White House dialogue on strategies for jumpstarting Puerto Rico’s economic development agreed to the following:

* The Department of the Treasury and the government of Puerto Rico will work to approve plans for $158 million from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund to deliver high-speed internet access to households and businesses who currently lack access, particularly in economically disadvantaged communities and remote areas with inadequate service.

* The Puerto Rico Office of Management and Budget, in coordination with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Federal Communications Commission, will fully establish a Broadband Program Office to coordinate and oversee broadband initiatives across the island. The Broadband Program will work to advance high-speed internet planning, infrastructure, adoption and access across the island, with NTIA providing technical assistance and $5.7 million under its Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment, and Digital Equity programs.

* The Department of Energy (DOE) will lead an interagency Puerto Rico Grid Recovery and Modernization Team, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Department of Agriculture, and Department of Commerce, to collaborate more intensively on the build-out of Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will convene the team monthly and work closely with Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to accelerate projects that rebuild an electricity grid that is more resilient, secure and capable of supporting 100% clean electricity by 2050.

* FEMA will adopt a new islandwide approach to approving projects to mitigate hazards to the energy grid, speeding up project development and completion of Hurricane Maria resilience work, and prioritizing proposals that increase resilience across the entire grid.

* FEMA will partner with DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to install temporary generation capacity and perform repairs that, together, will stabilize Puerto Rico’s energy grid and add approximately 600-700 megawatts of capacity. This will enable the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and LUMA Energy to repair damage to the power system caused by hurricanes Maria and Fiona without compromising service to homes and businesses.

* U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will work with Pierluisi to jointly appoint three trustees and a federal representative to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust in the first quarter of 2023. The Department of the Interior will also invest in key infrastructure projects to improve management and access for Puerto Rico’s protected lands in partnership with local communities, including a new office facility at Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge and road repairs at the Caribbean National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

* The EPA, the Puerto Rico Department of Health, and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) will partner to maximize the impact of $78.4 million in annual funding for water infrastructure that the island receives through the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. EPA will also invest $1.6 million to support an inventory of brownfield sites in the municipalities of Aibonito, Aguas Buenas, Corozal and Las Piedras to begin cleaning up and redeveloping those sites into community assets.

* The DNER will develop a sustainable program for solid waste management and administer $40 million in recovery funds for its implementation, with technical assistance from the EPA. EPA and the DNER will also jointly pilot a new program incentivizing the closure of open dumps in Puerto Rico and installation of solar panels, building on an EPA and DOE study of 19 landfills on the island for solar feasibility.

* The Department of Defense will invest $1.5 million to enable the Local Redevelopment Authority for the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station to carry out infrastructure and development projects, in partnership with the island Department of Economic Development and Commerce, and the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico.

* The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works will jointly facilitate major infrastructure works and innovative financing for priority projects across the island.

* The Puerto Rico Department of Housing (Vivienda) and six municipalities in the new ConSur consortium will implement recovery projects in areas hard-hit by earthquakes in 2019 and 2020 and launch an action plan for over $200 million in HUD funds for housing, economic development, and infrastructure recovery projects.

* Vivienda, with support from HUD, will also develop a comprehensive State Housing Plan for Puerto Rico, committing to specific actions to meet housing needs in the wake of bankruptcy and recent natural disasters.

* The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will award key contracts to undertake major public works projects, including: the Caño Martin Peña project to re-establish the tidal connection between the San José Lagoon and San Juan Bay, and important flood risk management projects in Río Puerto Nuevo, Río Grande de Arecibo, and Río de la Plata.

To be continued in the next edition.

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