Former HUD Deputy Secretary Works at Firm Commissioned for Puerto Rico’s Recovery Efforts

Pamela H. Patenaude helped lock down a record amount of recovery funds for the Island. After her resignation from the U.S. Department of Housing, she went to work with the firm IEM, which obtained a multi-million-dollar contract with the first allocation of the money she secured. When Pamela H. Patenaude announced her departure as undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on Dec. 17, 2018, former Secretary of the Puerto Rico Housing Department, Fernando Gil-Enseñat, and several local officials publicly lamented it. Patenaude, who was second in command after Secretary Ben Carson, was an important ally of the Island after Hurricanes Irma and María in September 2017.

FEMA Slashes $21M from the Initial Cost Estimate of the Vieques Medical Facility

The death of a teenager in Vieques whose relatives recounted how she died due to lack of medical services there, unleashed the rage of the residents of Isla Nena a week ago. The Viequenses brought cement blocks to the public square, as a protest art installation of sorts, demanding the construction of a proper hospital to provide health services to the island municipality some nine miles off the East coast of Puerto Rico. A few days later, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in an effort to neutralize criticism of its bureaucracy, announced the obligation of about $39.5 million for the reconstruction of the Vieques Susana Centeno Family Health Center destroyed by Hurricane María. FEMA has been evaluating this project since October 2018, although as of February of that same year it had already conducted a study that revealed the presence of different types of mold in the installation that represent a health risk for people with compromised immune systems. The study pointed to the need to replace the structure. FEMA, the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), and the Municipality of Vieques announced last week that they agreed that the project’s estimated cost would be $49,323,985.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allowed multimillion-dollar fraud in Puerto Rico’s power grid repair contracts

The audit of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) published Sept. 30, 2019 details how two of its districts — Hunstville and Jacksonville — failed to supervise and review the contracts, invoices and work performed by companies Fluor Enterprises and PowerSecure in Puerto Rico. These failures led to the U.S. Corps of Engineers paying $20.9 million to Fluor Enterprises and $29.2 million to PowerSecure.

Jurisdiction Over the Agreement that Would Control the San Juan Docks in a Limbo

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is evaluating different alternatives to obtain more information about the agreement between two of the main companies that operate at the Puerto Nuevo, San Juan, cargo pier. However, the chairman of the federal entity, Michael A. Khouri, warned Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced that if, as it seems, the transaction is actually a merger of companies or a purchase of assets, the FMC may not have the authority to stop the agreement between Luis Ayala Colón (LAC), the company responsible for loading and unloading international ships at the Puerto Nuevo pier, and Puerto Rico Terminals, a subsidiary of Tote Maritime, the second-largest company that operates the domestic cargo terminals in the Port of San Juan. The FMC’s concern over service being affected and that freight costs to and from Puerto Rico would be increased was expressed by Khouri in a letter he sent to Vázquez on Oct. 1. The “Commission will insist on enhanced monitoring with extensive disclosure of business and marketplace information.

FEMA Stalls Health Center for Vieques

The successions of bureaucratic setbacks for the reconstruction of the Vieques health center includes false information from the Resident Commissioner and FEMA’s insistence to reverse its own decisions and repeat studies that have already been completed. An elderly woman who dies from complications from diabetes that has been poorly treated, a young athlete who got hurt and cannot be evaluated with x-rays, a community leader with cancer who has to travel on a dirty cot in the back of a plane because, in Vieques, they cannot tend to complications due to surgery, a sick newborn who is transferred by helicopter in an emergency because there is no equipment on the island municipality to monitor his oxygenation, women who have to plan their deliveries and end up doing c-sections because they can no longer give birth in Vieques. They are all victims of the lack of adequate medical services in Vieques, a municipality nine miles East of the “big island” of Puerto Rico, aggravated after Hurricane María destroyed the only Diagnostic and Treatment Center (CDT, in Spanish), and a maritime transportation system that barely works. Some basic services have been temporarily reestablished in a school that served as a shelter. But the health care needs of the “Viequenses” require a permanent medical facility, better than the one there was two years ago, which was already precarious.

Mitigation Plans for Coastal Municipalities Do Not Include Dealing with Sargassum

Although the algae represent a health and economic problem for citizens and the tourism industry, concern over it still does not show on the radar of municipalities and agencies as an issue to be addressed. The awareness that the governments of coastal municipalities and the central government have about sargassum and the challenges that this marine species present to communities, ecosystems and businesses has not been enough to integrate how it will be managed in the mitigation plans prepared by the Puerto Rico Planning Board (JP in Spanish), and the 78 municipalities. After hurricanes Irma and María in September 2017, the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, known as COR3, asked the JP to update each municipality’s mitigation plans. For that task, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved an allocation to the JP of $3,128,916, which was increased in July 2019 to $5,396,144. With hose funds the JP hired   Atkins Caribe, LLC as an external consultant to update the municipal mitigation plans.