The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is involved in many public works efforts, including flood control, design and building of dams and other elements of waterways, and response to disasters. Puerto Rico, as a territory of the United States, is also eligible for assistance from the Corps of Engineers.
Hurricane damage control, dredging, and flood control are some of the needs that the Corps of Engineers can fulfill in Puerto Rico. However, it’s not enough merely to need help. Corps of Engineers projects must have significant financial support from non-federal sources, such as a state, a town, or a non-profit organization in order to be accepted and become a reality.
Depending on the type of project, the Army Corps may pay as much as 65-80% of the costs with federal money. The rest must come from other sources. Without that additional funding, projects cannot be started.
One example of a project of this kind in Puerto Rico is the problem of repeated flooding in San Juan. It is not known what is causing the persistent flooding, and a study will cost about $80,000. Without the study, the municipality of San Juan cannot find a solution. But Puerto Rico can’t come up with the money required to begin the study. This study is one of about 20 projects in Puerto Rico in this position.
Pedro Pierluisi, the non-voting congressional representative who provides Puerto Rico’s only voice in the federal government, added an amendment to a bill called the Water Resources Development Act of 2014 that addressed this problem. The amendment called for a waiver of the non-federal funds requirements for projects and studies in Puerto Rico, reducing the cost by up to $455,000 for each item. The $80,000 study can thus be conducted with no cost to San Juan. A project requiring $500,000 of non-federal funds would cost only $5,000. This makes many essential projects affordable for Puerto Rico.
Although the Puerto Rico provision and the Water Resources Development Act became law in June of 2014, its implementation has been delayed.
Yesterday the Pierluisi office announced that effectively immediately, the Jacksonville District of the Corps of Engineers, which oversees all Corps of Engineers activities in Puerto Rico, will apply a waiver of up to $455,000 for all Puerto Rico studies and projects in progress. The new waiver amount will also apply to all future studies and projects that may be commenced in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s economy is currently facing severe difficulties and the waiver will make projects possible which otherwise could not have been undertaken.