Alphabet Soup Disaster Aid

In the days of old, when the reps were bold and Promesa had just been invented, they placed their hopes upon the law and walked along contented. Yes, in the days immediately following the run-up to passing the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa), the members of Congress were hopeful that in drafting Title V of the law—assuming that energy reform in Puerto Rico would be a net positive—they would provide the mechanism by which affordable energy would be achieved through an expedited process.

The preamble for affordable energy in Title V was on full display during Promesahearings and in the hallowed halls of U.S. Congress. The permitting process in Title V was to have stood on its own with broad powers given to the Oboard to put critical infrastructure works on a fast track. The drafters hoped that once environmental regulatory hurdles were cleared, projects certified by la Junta could be up and under construction within 30 days. The drafters had no idea how that would play out under the actual Promesa mandate. Now, nearly three years after Promesa was signed into law, the answer is: “Not very well.”

The critical infrastructure works certified by former Revitalization Coordinator Noel Zamot (see Column, p. 15), who resigned in frustration after several hundred projects worth $8 billion were put on ice by the Oboard because of philosophical differences among members of the FOMB, were treated as a throwaway option under Title V to focus debt restructuring.

In other words, because of contentiousness between the Oboard and the administrationof then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló over structural balance in budgets and fiscal plans, it was best to let the government have its way, ignoring Title V as a tool for the construction of critical infrastructure. Instead, the Oboard allowed the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction & Resiliency (COR3) to run amok as the agency in charge of green-lighting infrastructure works, which has resulted in a disastrous track record and given room for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to drag its feet with layers of bureaucracy.

All told, only 131 projects have been certified with fixed-cost estimates, from a list of 9,200 projects. Although the holdup is multifactorial, tracing to mistrust in the vestiges of corruption in the Rosselló administration and a reported tug-of-war between FEMA and COR3, allegations by several sources interviewed by this newspaper claim the impasse resides in the disaster alphabet soup.

In fact, civil engineer Carlos Pesquera, a former New Progressive Party gubernatorialcandidate, who has skin in the disaster-recovery game with his firm, CapitalImprovements Program Management, claims FEMA is downright complicit in the trickling down of funds and approval of projects. In this edition’s Cover Story, Pesquera claims the recovery process was disrupted June 6 when FEMA assumed control of the process establishing a new business model layered with bureaucracy (see table National Workflow, pages 10 and 11.)

The sticking point is in Section 428 of the Stafford Act, which has been ignored by FEMA in granting municipalities 18 months to submit Damage, Description & Dimension (DDD) reports for fund disbursement. The deadline for submission is Oct. 11—a near-impossible milestone given that it will take collaboration between FEMA and COR3 to nail down the estimates.

And FEMA is moving at its typical glacial pace while using contractors who are not fromPuerto Rico, thus inflating costs, and worse still, selecting stateside disaster-relief capitalists who will not leave a dime in Puerto Rico.

At this writing, the Oct. 11 deadline under Section 428 seems likely to be extended.However, FEMA continues to insist on conducting site inspections although the law permits the use of local resources to conduct that work.

Two months ago, the U.S Government Accountability Office sounded the alarm over inconsistencies in FEMA’s procedures on a case-by-case basis, pointing to the federal agency’s ongoing development of a cost factor for use in the fixed-cost estimatingprocess as the culprit in slowing the pace of FEMA obligations.

If U.S. Congress has concerns over the use of funds destined for recovery, it should provide oversight without slowing the flow of disaster aid, and hold FEMA accountable for the proper use of local resources that lead to job creation and not a jumbled alphabet soup of disaster relief.




Puerto Rico Recovery Office demands sworn declaration from contractors

(Screen capture of (www.recovery.pr)

Must certify not having received any benefits and no cronyism, conflicts of interest exist

SAN JUAN — The new executive director of the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), Ottmar Chávez, announced that every contractor and subcontractor must sign a mandatory affidavit to offer services to the office.

COR3 is a division of the Public-Private Partnerships Authority. It works hand in hand with the federal government, to “ensure that the Government of Puerto Rico successfully undertakes reconstruction efforts with efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency, while capitalizing on opportunities to build back in a way that makes Puerto Rico better, stronger, and more resilient,” the entity’s mission statement reads.

“We have begun to send an affidavit to all contractors and subcontractors, which must go with the contract that all professionals offering services to COR3 have to sign. What we seek most is to ensure that the Government of Puerto Rico efficiently and effectively implements recovery and reconstruction efforts, and at the same time capitalizes on the opportunities to rebuild a better, stronger and more resilient Puerto Rico,” the executive director said in a press release issued by his office.

Chávez explained that the affidavit certifies that no gifts or money were received before the granting of the contract and that prior to formalizing the contract no such benefits were negotiated either.

The interests of the contractor “represent COR3 and cannot be lent to do favors to family members of any official or public employee of COR3,” the official said, adding that contractors will have to assure they will not represent an opposing party, nor make payments to any contractor or government employee to keep the contract in force.

In addition, the document makes it clear contractors and subcontractors certify by signing that they will avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest and that they have not been involved in any guilty plea amid any charges.

“Recovery work continues. Transforming the Island with a vision towards the future by implementing cost-effective solutions using innovative ideas, best practices and revitalizing economic development is one of our objectives. We are focused on working to strengthen and enhance the ability of Puerto Rico to resist and recover from future disasters with responsibility, in a clear and transparent manner,” Chávez added.




FEMA sums up Hurricane Maria recovery aid for Puerto Rico

Sets the stage for long-term recovery, ‘resiliency through partnership’

SAN JUAN — The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published a release Wednesday, saying that local government agencies and other federal partners continue supporting the Government of Puerto Rico’s plan for recovery after Hurricane Maria.

“With more than $8.5 billion granted so far for Public Assistance, Individual Assistance and Mitigation grants, the island is better positioned to build back stronger,” the agency said on the year and a half mark since the hurricane’s historical impact on Puerto Rico.

FEMA assured that work on “key infrastructure and lifelines is ongoing, helping the island during its recovery process while also restoring and empowering communities.”

Below are some examples of projects underway for the island’s long-term recovery, as per FEMA’s release:

Restoration of Water Systems

FEMA has awarded approximately $135 million to the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, or PRASA, for Hurricane María-related expenses. These funds were for debris removal and immediate measures to save lives and protect public health and property.

PRASA has identified over 5,000 facilities to be repaired or rebuilt, making this a massive undertaking.

FEMA is also working on approving roughly $2 million in funds for repair works in Non-PRASA water systems. Roughly 90,000 residents rely on community aqueducts, many of which were severely damaged after the storm.

In the Guayabota community in Yabucoa, located in the eastern part of the island, repairs to broken fences, gates and pipes help ensure residents have access to clean drinking water. Under a mission assignment with the Environmental Protection Agency, community systems like this one are continually assessed and supported and promote the importance of community resiliency.

New Ways to Rebuild

So far, FEMA has disbursed over $745 million for home rental, repairs and replacement costs. But even with several housing programs up and running, and volunteer organizations eager to lend a helping hand, the scarcity and high prices of construction materials delayed the process of getting people back in their homes. More needed to be done.

The Voluntary Agencies Leading and Organizing Repair program, or VALOR, was created for nonprofits to receive materials and equipment to perform minor home repairs. FEMA has provided $12.6 million for home construction materials that volunteer agencies have used to repair 3,300 homes on the island. The successful implementation of this program in Puerto Rico has opened the door for its use in other disasters.

Recovery in the Hands of Every Survivor

Puerto Rico residents, regardless of whether they registered for assistance with FEMA, who still face disaster-related unmet needs have a network of resources to help get them back on their feet. FEMA and the Government of Puerto Rico have established community recovery centers throughout the island as a place where residents have access to federal and local recovery specialists, disaster case managers and volunteer organizations.

FEMA has awarded nearly $70 million for disaster case management in Puerto Rico, providing survivors with a single point of contact to facilitate access to a broad range of resources. There are over 600 disaster case managers available to meet with survivors across the island in community recovery centers.

Over 100,000 people have visited and continue to visit CRCs, helping create more resilient communities and establishing ties with local nonprofits and volunteer organizations.

Repaving the Road to Recovery

FEMA has provided over $54 million in funding to repair hurricane-damaged sites including roads and bridges in Puerto Rico. These sites, owned by the state and municipalities, are under mission assignment with the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division and include repairs to bridges in Utuado, one of the hardest hit areas on the island.

In collaboration with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Puerto Rico’s Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, or COR3, over 106,000 street lights across the island will be repaired or replaced at an estimated cost of $35 million.

With emergency work complete, permanent work underway and communities coming together to develop innovative solutions tailored to their long-term recovery needs, Puerto Rico will be better positioned to withstand whatever comes next. Recovery is the longest phase of a disaster and FEMA is committed to rebuilding a stronger Puerto Rico.

For more information on the Hurricane María recovery, visit fema.gov/disaster/4339.




Puerto Rico gov’t disagrees with resident commissioner proposal for U.S. recovery czar for the island

SAN JUAN – The administration of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló does not support Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González’s proposal for the White House to appoint a “czar of recovery” for Puerto Rico.

In a radio interview, Anthony Maceira, the public affairs secretary at the governor’s office, La Fortaleza, said the commonwealth government already has more limitations than other jurisdictions have.

González made the proposal after a meeting with U.S. officials Thursday, including Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who is also the acting White House chief of staff, to discuss the pace and delays regarding the disbursement of federal recovery funds for Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane season.

Puerto Rico has not only submitted two recovery plans to U.S. officials but has also established the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, or COR3, to manage incoming federal funds.

In a recent interview with Caribbean Business, COR3’s executive director, Omar Marrero, requested control of the disbursement of federal funds, citing a high level of red tape.

“This is not new, something similar had been discussed in December and we already believe the government of Puerto Rico has greater limitations and controls than what other jurisdictions have,” said Maceira, who is also the executive director of the Ports Authority.

González’s proposal calls for a federal official to coordinate the reconstruction needed in Puerto Rico following the passage of hurricanes Irma and María, due to the delay of federal funds. However, Maceira reiterated that the island has sufficient controls to ensure the proper use of federal funds.

“In the case of FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], we have what is known as S. 270, which is an additional approval that is required before funds can be disbursed and that other jurisdictions do not have,” Maceira added.

The White House, however, already has a draft of the proposal, and the Trump administration’s reported lack of confidence may result in an executive order to name a recovery czar for the island.