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USACE unveils $252M plan to manage coastal storm risk in Ocean Park, Rincón

In Rincón, the agency proposes buying about 70 “vulnerable structures” along the coastline.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is proposing a $252 million plan to reduce the risk of damage from coastal storms to residential and commercial structures, public infrastructure and critical facilities in the areas of Ocean Park in San Juan and the western town of Rincón.

The overall estimated project cost is split between $112.6 million for Ocean Park and $139.7 million for Rincón, with 65% of the funding coming from federal ($97.2 million) and 35% from non-federal ($155.1 million) sources, according to the draft version of the Puerto Rico Coastal Study report released last month.

According to the proposal, improvements to Ocean Park will include the construction of two floodwalls: one of about 1,600 feet in the Barbosa Park area and a second measuring some 1,200 feet near Las Marías skate park, both with an elevation of 7 feet, to reduce coastal flooding in the San Juan metropolitan area due to hurricanes and coastal storm impacts.

“This plan is designed to maintain existing community recreation access and the ocean viewshed while providing coastal flooding risk reduction,” said Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, chief of engineers and commanding general of USACE, in a summary sent to the Department of the Army’s Office of the Chief of Engineers.

“Nearly 40% of the benefits would be gained by the most socially vulnerable populations by reducing coastal flooding damages into the Residencial Luis Lloréns Torres community, which is a historical, economically disadvantaged community and meets thresholds for environmental justice. The acquisition of [approximately eight] parcels west of Barbosa Park is proposed to mitigate for induced damages and to tie the flood wall into high ground,” said Spellmon in the letter.

Meanwhile, in Rincón, the federal agency proposes buying about 70 “vulnerable structures” along the coastline, including a portion of Villa Cofresí, to complete the project they are proposing under the “managed retreat” concept that involves the “purposeful and coordinated movement of people, infrastructure and buildings away from risks.”

“These properties are the most vulnerable, and modeling has predicted that these structures would be severely impacted by hurricanes and storms and/or condemned for safety reasons within the next 25 years, given the high levels of predicted damage,” the agency stated in a Facebook post explaining the project.

“With acquisition as part of the federal plan, homeowners would be offered the appraised price for their home, based on the fair market value (FMV) determined by a local licensed appraiser and under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970, they would be provided relocation assistance to move to new homes,” it stated.

“An essential part of this plan is that homeowners are given compensation for their homes at fair market value while homes are in peak condition, prior to loss of value after possible catastrophic damages occurring to homes from hurricanes and storms,” USACE added in the post it published Monday.

The agency explained that the acquired structures “will be demolished, debris removed, and the land would be reestablished as a protected natural coastline (beach) that would support environmental enhancement and public recreation to maintain economic growth and stability of the community.”

Once acquired, these lands would become part of the maritime terrestrial zone and future development would be prohibited, ensuring the beach area remains natural and undeveloped, to allow coastal processes to occur naturally, it stated.

“The newly established shoreline will function as a natural buffer, allowing time and physical space for Puerto Rico government entities to sustainably manage the shoreline and increase coastal resiliency into the future,” it stated. “The concept of coastal retreat is not a new idea and is being implemented across the Nation in states such as California, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, and Florida.”

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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