SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to take new approaches to engineering solutions for our nations toughest challenges and introduced the new task force that aims to speed up construction of the ongoing civilian works on the Island. Task Force U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico (Task Force VIPR) was created to organize and prioritize the demand of construction projects throughout the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. These works are the product of more than $3 billions in federal funds, the largest sum of allocations USACE has received in its history for projects on the island, and which were supported by the Congresswoman, most of them under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Division oversees construction in this area of operation. Recent natural disasters on the islands have increased requirements in the civil works, military construction, inter-agency, international support and environment programs. The construction program has drastically grown in terms of the number of projects and funding.
Congress passed supplemental funding bills (BBA 18, DRSAA, and BIL) between 2018 and 2022 that provided new appropriations throughout USACE.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Division commander, Brig. Gen. Daniel Hibner and Puerto Rico Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon made the announcement of TF VIPR establishment during a recent press conference.
“I have directed the stand up of a new organization, Task Force VIPR, that will focus and sole responsibility for implementation of construction projects in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” said Hibner. The extraordinary size, complexity, and requirement to put these projects in place will take extraordinary measures.”
Hibner said, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Michael Connor look forward to seeing the progression of projects. USACE lead Engineer, Jacqueline Keizer is heading the group until U. S. Army, Col. Kelcey Shaw, arrives in July designated as the new commander for Task Force VIPR. They will report directly to the South Atlantic Division commander.
“I recognize the strategic importance of this multi-billion program and as the South Atlantic Division Commander I am committed to the success of Task Force VIPR and this program”, said Brigadier General Daniel Hibner. "This effort has the full support of LT. Gen Spellmon as the Chief of Engineers and Mr. Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works".
The new approach of establishing TF VIPR is unprecedented in two main areas. A first for a commander with the rank of colonel will command a district-size task force on the island of Puerto Rico and the program has more projects and more funding now than in the entire history of USACE engagement in Puerto Rico.
“I welcome this Task Force and I vow to continue to work closely with them so that our people can be safe in the face of natural disasters,” said Gonzalez. “The Corps of Engineers has created an exclusive work group to attend reconstruction here in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands and we are happy, and the volume of projects and budget is such that Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands needed a dedicated team to attend the workload, and therefore Task Force VIPR has been created.”
TF VIPR leadership structure will focus on all current and future civil projects in their area of operation.
Since 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) - South Atlantic Division’s portfolio of programs has increased enormously in terms of number of projects and overall scheduled obligations each fiscal year. These increases resulted from natural disasters as well as requirements growth across Civil Works (CW), Military Construction (MILCON), Interagency & International Support (IIS) and Environmental programs.
The Jacksonville District, Antilles Area Office will continue to support Puerto Rico military and other projects however, TF VIPR will report directly to the South Atlantic Division Commander as part of the new structure, which accelerates decision making.
“I am excited that together we have the opportunity to take this great program and make it extraordinary.” Jackie Keiser , Deputy Project Management, USACE TF VIPR, said ”One team, one mission for Puerto Rico. Task Force VIPR will have one focus and that is all current and future Civil Works projects in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands”.
The Task Force is currently identifying and seeking professionals with expertise and skills for various engineering positions. This expertise with the addition of new and passionate leadership will fit the mission. There will be future job positions advertised and contractors announced to meet requirements.
Congress passed multiple supplemental funding bills (BBA 18, DRSAA and BIL) between 2018 and 2022 providing authorities and appropriations across USACE and particularly for SAD. The massive and rapid growth across the SAD Area of responsibility requires additional bandwidth for leadership, resources, and workload management to execute the program effectively and efficiently.
In February 2023, an SAD command directed review of regional workload revealed significant workloads the Jacksonville District Areas of Responsibility (AOR), particularly in Puerto Rico (PR) Civil Works. The review recommended the development of a Task Force to provide oversight of programs and projects in Puerto Rico (PR) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
On 14 April 2023 the Chief of Engineers approved South Atlantic Division’s (SAD) proposal to stand up Task Force Virgin Islands Puerto Rico (VIPR).
TF VIPR will carry out all the civil works that USACE carries out and will carry out on the island. Other districts could collaborate with the works in Puerto Rico, such as Jacksonville District which will continue to be in charge of cleaning up Culebra under the program of sites previously used by the Department of Defense (FUDS) and the completion of studies on coastal erosion.
The TF VIPR will carry out works in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, including the following work planned for Puerto Rico:
San Juan - Flood Risk Management Project Río Puerto Nuevo - $1.5 billion
San Juan- Improvements to San Juan Harbor- $45.5 million
San Juan- Ecosystem Restoration Project-Caño Martín Peña-$163.2 million
San Juan- Army Reserve Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP) Puerto Nuevo $9.6 million
San Juan -construction of FDA facility $10 million
Dorado, Toa Baja y Toa Alta- Flood Risk Management Project Río de La Plata- - $485.2 million
Arecibo - Flood Risk Management Project Río Grande de Arecibo- $174.1 million
Gurabo y Caguas -Río Grande de Loíza – FY24 Expressed Capability
Aguada y Aguadilla - Flood Risk Management Project Río Culebrinas -$26.4 million
Ciales- Flood Risk Management Project Río Grande de Manatí - $14.8 million
Guayanilla- Flood Risk Management Project Río Guayanilla -$60.6 million
Aibonito- Río Aibonito- $50,000 for studies
Santa Isabel-Rio Descalabrado- pending.
Guaynabo – 4 proyectos de reconstrucción en el Fuerte Buchanan-$63 million
Salinas- Army Reserve National Guard Joint Training Center -$291 million
Salinas- Río Nigua - $47.8 million
Mayagüez -Río Guanajibo- $107.1 million
Quebradillas- reconstruction of the Guajataca Dam- pending.
Since 2017 USACE has completed the following projects:
Fort Buchanan Access Control Point - $10,274,721.12
Fort Buchanan Apparatus Building- $2,191,640.38
Fort Buchanan Physical Fitness Annex - $1,717,442.38
Aguadilla Army Reserve Center- $19,674,589.07
Rio Puerto Nuevo Cont 2D Walls-$24,059,396.00
East Levee Repair (Barceloneta)-$3,219,090.99
Guajataca Dam Stage 2 Risk Reduction Measure- $5,815,005.41
Guajataca Dam Sluice Gate Stem Replacement- $787,504.50
Guajatca Dam Spillway Channel Reinforcement-$17,804,766.14
Rio Yauco Temporary Levee Repair- $2,283,888.39
Guajatca Dam Hydraulic System Replacement- $1,106,467.55
Salud Creek Streambank Protection- $1,059,800.90
Loiza Shoreline Protection- $3,586,866.55
Arecibo Harbor & Mayaguez Harbor O&M- $6,548,412.00
Rio Anton Ruiz Restoration- $3,782,216.29
In addition to all these works, USACE has directed emergency missions such as power generation work, with the distribution of generators after each major disaster such as hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Fiona.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District on the district’s website at https://www.saj.usace.army.mil/, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JacksonvilleDistrict and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JaxStrong.