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Crowley does its part to contribute to Puerto Rico’s reconstruction

A seemingly endless procession of heavy equipment and machinery rolled off the “El Conquistador” barge manned by maritime shipping company Crowley one recent Wednesday morning, arriving to assist in Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery efforts, which are finally underway.

The barge, which left the Jacksonville, FL port a week before, carried a mix of 506 loads, mostly equipment — including excavators, dozers, cranes, trucks, and other vehicles — which will likely be used in the hundreds of projects already underway in Puerto Rico to repair what Hurricane María destroyed in 2017.

“Every two weeks, this barge arrives to the island completely full, and we have seen an increase in the volume of these types of equipment arriving to the island ever since the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began liberating reconstruction funds,” said José Francisco Nazario, senior director of terminal operations and administration for Crowley in Puerto Rico.

During an exclusive visit to the maritime shipping company’s facilities in San Juan, News is my Business witnessed how dozens of construction vehicles were driven off the triple-decker barge, as well as private vehicles like golf carts, jet skis, antique cars, and a luxury camper van that were all carefully maneuvered off the “El Conquistador.”

The impressive triple-decker barge is outfitted with three lanes on each level to accommodate vehicles according to their specifications. Massive chains and wooden platforms are used to secure the units in Jacksonville for their seven-day sail down the Atlantic.

As of January 2022, FEMA had obligated funds for more than 9,100 projects related to Hurricane María. This represents more than $25.9 billion in federal funds for Puerto Rico’s recovery. Hundreds of projects have already been completed while others are in the bidding and procurement stages.

“These awards represent over $19.4 billion for permanent work in various categories,” said FEMA’s Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator in Puerto Rico, José G. Baquero Tirado, in a press release, in which he also confirmed that some 1,900 projects were in several stages of approval.

Of the allocated funds, close to $1.3 billion has been approved for more than 2,600 projects related to roads and bridges, close to $897 million was approved to cover the costs of some 2,000 projects to repair parks and recreational facilities, about $4.1 billion was obligated for more than 2,300 projects to repair public buildings.

While funding has been allocated for hundreds of projects, currently, 558 permanent works are underway, representing an investment of approximately $373 million. Meanwhile, more than 337 projects that represent $14.7 million have been completed, and this year approximately 2,000 projects will begin their respective phases of construction, according to the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), which keeps track of all the projects.

That movement of funding is what Crowley officials believe has accounted for the uptick in heavy machinery acquisitions.

In February, Florida-based Ritchie Bros. — a company that is dedicated to offering solutions for buying and selling used heavy equipment, trucks, and other assets — held a six-day auction in Orlando, during which more than $213 million in heavy machinery was sold to more than 26,000 online and onsite bidders.

That group had participation from public and private bidders with presence or operations in Puerto Rico, including individuals, construction companies, distributors, and the municipal and central governments.

“Puerto Rico has been waiting for many years for these federal funds to be freed up, and finally, since January, there are construction companies, municipalities and freight forwarders buying equipment in the US mainland for the reconstruction projects,” said Nazario, adding that in the last two years, the volume of these types of loads has increased by 70%.

“With COR3 as coordinator, our clients can plan based on what they need to bring and the time they need to do it. Our sales team is also on the street following up on projects and offering our services and support because this can be complicated and they shouldn’t miss out on opportunities,” said Nazario, mentioning the Ritchie Bros. auction as an example.

Javier García, operations manager at Crowley San Juan’s shipping operations, offers details of the process of unloading tons of heavy machinery equipment and private vehicles from the “El Conquistador” barge. (Credit: Alex Ramos)

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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