SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The Task Force Power Restoration Realty Team, potentially saved the Federal Emergency Management Agency more than $3 million in a leasing agreement.The U.S Army Corps of Engineers leased a closed Air Force Base in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico Feb. 15 to store the massive amounts of material needed for the power restoration mission."By using a quitclaim we acquired the land for free," said Victor Otero, USACE Real Estate Specialist from the Galveston District. "A savings to the Corps of over $1 million and possibly more than $3 million to the General Services Administration and FEMA."
The Realty Team has been tasked with providing office space, warehouse space and laydown yards for the Task Force Power Restoration mission in Puerto Rico."Many of the leases and right-of-entries prior to our arrival were in place, but as the Task Force Power continues pushing through to meet their goal of 95% power to the island, the mission has required additional offices, warehouses, and laydown yards to prepare for the expansion of materials and work focused on some of the most hard hit and extremely mountainous rural areas of the island," stated Otero, a native of Puerto Rico.A vital area of the 42.2 acres acquired was the Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla. Found in the Northwest part of the island, the airport was once known as Ramey Air Force Base and home to the B-52 Stratosphere until its closure in 1978. Since then it has been running as an active airport with a large FedEx hub. Recently FEMA had leased approximately 154 acres which USACE had also been using for their mission. In FEMA's pursuit to reduce their assets on the island, they made a request for the USACE to acquire their own lease on the existing space USACE had been using since the start of the mission."The Realty Team was tasked to get a lease together and after discussions with the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, they were informed that FAA required a 55 cents per square foot lease, but would give the same offer as they had to FEMA at 49 cents per square foot," recounts Otero. "In meeting with the Ports Authority, we felt the price was too high for a landing strip that hasn't been used in years."The Realty Team began negotiating with the Ports Authority, but they wouldn't budge using a regulation that had expired in 2012. In order to reason with the Ports Authority the team even explained that the airstrip had once been a military base.Otero and Anita Bradburn, Real Estate Specialist from the Huntington District brainstormed the issue and began researching Defense Base Closure Realignment Commission files. Otero had worked on a previous BRAC as an employee of the Department of Transportation and remembers clauses protecting a Federal Investment even after it is given to a Municipality for other purposes.
With the assistance of members at the FAA and USACE-Jacksonville District, they were able to produce the August 28, 1978 Quitclaim Deed which has a clause stating that "during any national emergency declared by the President of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA or the Congress thereof, including any existing national emergency, the Government shall have the right to make exclusive or nonexclusive use and have exclusive or nonexclusive control and possessions without charge, of the airport, or of such portion thereof... exclusive possession or control, during the period of such use, possession, or control, and shall be obligated to contribute a reasonable share...""This shows the importance of not only retaining but organizing our old deeds and files. Finding this document not only saves us money but time in order to direct our efforts to other parts of the mission that need assistance," concluded Otero."This was huge! This gives the Corps the flexibility of continued use of the airport which is a vital part of the mission at no cost to the taxpayer," concluded Bradburn.