FEMA’s recovery programs driving projects in San Juan communities
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continues funding the development of projects with mitigation measures that address Puerto Rico’s resilient preparation for future atmospheric events. Hazard mitigation refers to sustainable action that reduces or eliminates future disaster risks to people and property.
Two programs fund these initiatives on the island under the agency’s umbrella: the Public Assistance program (PA) for projects with mitigation measures, and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).
“Due to the impacts that climate change continues to present worldwide, it’s important that Puerto Rico’s infrastructure is prepared to withstand the effects of future natural disasters and thus reduce long-term risks for communities. The projects with mitigation measures seek to break the cycle of these damages, either by reconstruction or by repeated damages,” Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José Baquero stated.
One of FEMA’s objectives in infrastructure reconstruction is addressing the effects of flooding in communities, he added.
An example is the gravity storm sewer system project in the northern regions of the Israel and Bitumul communities in San Juan, funded under HMGP. FEMA approved more than $3.6 million for the first phase of the project, which will provide a new sanitary sewer system for 367 homes and separate the sanitary sewer discharge from the storm sewer system.
Carlos Muñiz-Pérez is the Urban Planning and Infrastructure Manager for the ENLACE Project, the organization that coordinates the channeling and dredging of the Martín Peña Channel and the redevelopment of the eight communities that surround it, with the active participation of its residents and community organizations.
He said THAT addressing the sanitary system through the storm sewer project will prevent continuous discharges into the channel, which will improve water quality and make the dredging project viable.
“That you can, in a flood event, leave your house the next day, be able to go to work, be able to go to a doctor’s appointment, all of that has a positive economic impact for the residents. It’s basic infrastructure, which perhaps many of us have, but in the communities along the channel, there are still residents who do not have that infrastructure,” he said.
Evelyn Quiñones-Ortiz, president of the Bitumul and Israel’s Community Action Board, said, “The mitigation project, the dredging project, will give us life. That’s what we want: quality of life to improve.”
The community leader also said a maintenance plan at the community level will be vital to preserve the land after the restoration of the channel.
Other hazard mitigation projects
Nature-based solutions (NBS) are part of the tools that FEMA employs to mitigate hazards. NBS are planning, design and engineering practices that weave natural features or processes into their construction.
One NBS tool is the Articulated Cement Blocks (ACB), which are used in several bridge and highway projects. These blocks control erosion and support soil stabilization and are cost-effective and eco-friendly. ACBs can be filled with sediment, which helps restore vegetation.
The Vara de Perro sector bridge in Guayanilla will utilize this measure. More than $271,000 — from Hurricane María Public Assistance — will fund the ACB installation at the bridge’s entry, exit, and base to curb future structural erosion damage.
Also with Public Assistance funding, other nature-based solutions will be implemented on the PR-378 bridge in the Maravilla Norte neighborhood in Las Marías. More than $390,000 will facilitate the installation of green gabions, revetments that filter and maintain water flow, minimizing erosion.
The green gabions can also be filled with vegetation to adapt to the natural environment, the agency noted.