San Juan, Puerto Rico – Close to a hundred citizens of the Ciales area attended a Rio Grande de Manatí flood risk feasibility study public scoping meeting Sunday, hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The meeting organized by Puerto Rico’s District 13 Representative Gabriel Rodriguez-Aguiló was an opportunity for the community to not only learn about the scope and process of the study being conducted by the Corps, but to express their concerns, ask questions and provide input on the considered flood risk management alternatives that were presented.
Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón was in attendance and addressed the public explaining the importance of the meeting.
“Each time there is going to be a new stage, the community has to know what is going to happen, where it is going, what is the area to be impacted. That is the reason for this meeting," said González-Colón. "So that you learn from the experts, which is the Corps of Engineers, what is the vision that they have.”
The Corps’ Pittsburgh District is conducting the study and working closely with the Jacksonville District as well as the study's non-federal sponsor, Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and other local representatives.
The $1.2 million study expected to be completed by October 2020, was authorized and funded as a result of Public Law 115-123, referred to as the Supplemental Appropriations in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.
Pittsburgh District Engineer Ivan Peña gave a 30 minute presentation addressing the scope, the current issues, the process and the timeline for completion.
“We are studying the flood-prone area extending along the Rio Grande de Manati from the site of the PR-145 Bridge downstream approximately 12,500 linear feet to the PR-6685 Bridge,” said Peña, “This area was picked to capture the major problem areas as identified by the Municipality of Ciales and PR DNER.”
The Corps current authorization by congress is to study approaches that will reduce flood risk to structures in the community. However, based on previous site visits and conversations with local municipalities representatives, flooding of roads and stream bank erosion have been identified as a large concern for the community.
“We will be primarily focusing on approaches that reduce the risk of flooding to structures and will address stream bank erosion and transportation delays to the extent possible as allowed under the study authority.” Said Peña.
The Corps' structured study process involves comparing alternative flood risk reduction alternatives to identify which, if any, is the most effective and efficient at addressing the identified problems. Should the study identify a suitable plan, that plan would then be used to design and implement a flood risk reduction project.
Some of the flood risk alternatives that could be determined by the results of the study include channelization, channel Improvement or channel relocation, as well as non-structural recommendations such as buy-outs and flood-proofing options. The study may find that a suitable plan cannot be identified.
"We are looking at the different options we have," Jacksonville's Deputy District Commander Maj. Alexander Walker said. “We want to see what which option is most viable, the most cost effective and the one that will provide the most benefit for the community.”
Following the presentation the panel urged the attendees to provide any information regarding the area that would be helpful to consider as well as to express any worries they had regarding the study, which would help the Corps further define it.
One resident spoke about some houses that were built on top of a canalized creek, a fact that Corps’ engineers did not know, highlighting the importance of holding these meetings.
“That’s why we are here,” said Peña. “To learn about this type of information.”
Many members of the community approached the microphone and in addition to asking questions gave emotional testimony about how they were affected by 2017’s Hurricane Maria. The biggest concern expressed by those in attendance was the length of time that it could take before they saw a solution.
It is expected that a recommended alternative will be provided by Corps to the community no later than November 2019.
“The Corps has a compromise with us to find the best alternative.” Said Rodriguez-Aguiló.
The Corps public comments deadline is April 19, 2019. Questions, comments and information may be sent to Andrea Carson at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1000 Liberty Avenue, Floor 22, Pittsurgh, Pennsylvania, 15222; or via email at Andrea.L.Carson@usace.army.mil.