Rincón May Lose a Beach to a Federal Project Aimed to Protect Infrastructure in the Zone

Two of the major projects after Hurricane Maria, carried out by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), would involve periodic renourishment of San Juan’s famous beaches in Condado and Ocean Park with sand, along with a breakwater field. The federal agency also proposes to place stone revetment along a mile of coastline in Rincón. The projects seek to protect, over a period of 50 years, the properties and infrastructure of San Juan, in the North, and Rincón, on the West coast, from the waves, floods and erosion caused by storms and rising sea levels. The period to send public questions and comments about the proposal opened November 20, 2020 and ends January 6, 2021, in the middle of the Christmas season and the pandemic. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) interviewed two oceanographers from the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez Campus (RUM, in Spanish) and an oceanographic geologist from the Río Piedras Campus, who predicted that the Rincón project would eliminate the possibility of recovering the municipality’s already eroded beaches and that will have an impact on the future of tourism there.

Communities in Puerto Rico will Remain at the Mercy of Water Rationing and Flooding for Several Years

In the Cubuy neighborhood in Canóvanas, having a cistern — sometimes two, or even three — is indispensable to deal with the unpredictability of the potable water service. When there is no such option, you have to resort to gallons, buckets or containers to store the liquid. Madeline Negrón, 48, a resident of the Eva Flores sector of this neighborhood, is witness to that, and she says it doesn’t take a hurricane, storm or a drought for the pipes to be empty for up to three days straight. When Hurricane María struck in 2017, the roughly 10 residents who live in this area had to wait several weeks before water service was restored. The situation is much worse in times of droughts, since Cubuy and other neighborhoods in Canóvanas are among the first sectors to get rationed when the levels of the Carraízo reservoir — located in Trujillo Alto — drop.

Puerto Rico’s main recovery projects yet to get off the ground three years after Hurricane Maria

Rebuilding the most costly and essential infrastructure projects — including those related to water supply, power service, education and recreation — which were affected after Hurricane María slammed into Puerto Rico in 2017, could take several more years to get off the ground. So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated money to only four of the 10 most expensive recovery projects requiring federal funds, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found. The remaining six are in the project formulation stage before the federal agency, which is only the first of 19 evaluation steps when claiming funds for a structure that has been affected by an emergency. That first step includes filling out project worksheets (PW), in which the entity that claims losses to FEMA details the costs of the work and the breakdown of any applicable insurance reimbursement. Completing the entire evaluation could take months and even years, several local and federal government officials interviewed by the CPI confirmed.

Geologists in Puerto Rico have been unlicensed during seismic emergency period due to government inefficiency

Puerto Rico learned the importance of the geology profession with the seismic events that took place between December and January in the southern part of the island. The advice of geologists has been needed several times since the beginning of 2020. However, geologists have been working in Puerto Rico for at least three years without an active Board of Examiners, which is supposed to regulate the profession and grant licenses. According to four geologists consulted, the Board of Examiners of Geologists of Puerto Rico began to disappear during the previous government administration and five years later, the government has not activated it, putting at risk one of the most relevant professions in a territory that for the past two and a half years has experienced significant geophysical changes due to hurricanes in 2017, accelerated coastal erosion, and earthquakes. Although the general information and contact number for the Board of Examiners of Geologists appears on the official State Department website, the regulatory body is not active.

Recurrent Trauma: The effects of Climate Change on Mental Health in Puerto Rico

Rafael Negrón Santos did not lose his home or his job after Hurricane María, but the storm was the end of his relationship with his partner. The struggle to survive in the days and weeks that followed, coupled with the despair caused by life without electricity, the frustration at the number of deaths that the government refused to acknowledge, and the time he devoted to taking care of his mother’s needs, weakened communication with his partner. One day he came home, and she was gone. The number of stress factors he faced took a toll on his mental health. In the months that followed, he lost his appetite, lost nearly 40 pounds, and had panic attacks.

The Use of only 2% of CDBG-DR Available Funds Shows Puerto Rico Government’s Slow Spending

Of the $20.2 billion recovery funds allocation granted after Hurricane María through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program (CDBG-DR), Puerto Rico has been approved to use only 16%, or, $3.2 billion. Of the money available, the government had used a mere 2%, as of June 30, the end of fiscal year 2020. The bureaucratic process and restrictions by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), coupled with the government of Puerto Rico’s ongoing staffing and planning changes, influence the delay in the disbursement of money, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found. Some $67 million had been disbursed, at the end of the fiscal year, on June 30, according to the federal interagency Recovery Support Function Leadership Group (RSFLG), that is, 76% of what was projected by the 2020 Fiscal Plan certified by the Fiscal Control Board. Some of the recovery projects have been shifted to a different agency in charge; others have been canceled.