FEMA awards $6.2M+ to Puerto Rico ecotourism hotspots
Environmental protection allows the population to enjoy nature, while contributing to their well-being and also indirectly promotes the creation of small business in the ecotourism industry.
This positive cascade effect is how Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, José Baquero Tirado, described the recent $6.2 million obligation to the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) and the municipalities of Villalba and Aibonito for projects related to the enjoyment of the environment.
This award from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) includes more than $5.1 million for repairs at the Punta Santiago Vacation Center in Humacao, one of the most important ecotourism destinations in the eastern part of the island.
The facility is located near the Punta Santiago Public Beach and the Efraín Archilla Humacao Nature Reserve, a 3,186-acre recreational park and a refuge for wildlife such as the “tinglar” turtle, the brown pelican, and Puerto Rican boa. The award also includes funding to repair the Punta Santiago Aquatic Park.
Humacao Mayor Reinaldo Vargas said the opening of the vacation center will have a positive impact on businesses in Punta Santiago, because of its tourism appeal. The monthly occupancy at the center was some 600 people and the DNER estimates that the economic loss after its closure is about $2.2 million.
“Sales will benefit, as well as the possible opening of new businesses and jobs. Bordering the Punta Santiago area is the Efraín Archilla Nature Reserve, which has several micro-businesses dedicated to recreation,” the mayor said.
“These are local businesses dedicated to equipment rental, so they would directly benefit from the flow of visitors and tourists arriving to the area,” Vargas added.
Meanwhile, the La Piedra Degetau observation deck — another ecological recreation space — got more than $420,800 in federal funding for repairs. It has several wooden gazebos, among gardens, trees and an observation post.
Nearby, the municipality of Villalba was allocated more than $121,300 to repair the municipality’s observation deck, a passive recreation area located at the top of Puerto Rico’s Central Mountain Range.
At an altitude of 3,300 feet above sea level, the observation deck between Villalba and Orocovis has sports facilities, a children’s play area, gazebos and a lookout point that provides views of the island’s north and south coasts, the Atlantic Ocean, the North Karst area and Puerto Rico’s geographic center.
“These obligations of funds from FEMA will allow the reconstruction of safe and eco-friendly spaces that will boost the recovery of tourism in various regions of the island,” said Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) Executive Director Manuel A. Laboy.
“In addition, the projects will promote the socioeconomic development of Puerto Rico by fostering the creation of businesses that will result in new job opportunities. At COR3 we will assist in the processes related to each of these recovery projects,” he said.