By Denisha BraxtonApril 13, 2018
2017 was a devastating year for the United States with more than 15 natural disasters including catastrophic floods, intense wildfires and record-breaking hurricanes affecting millions of people across the country.
Each year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as part of the federal government's unified national response to natural disasters and emergencies, deploys hundreds of people from across the U.S. to provide technical assistance and engineering expertise.
When Hurricanes Irma and Maria overwhelmed the small Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico in September 2017, the response mission was no different.
As directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 150 USACE personnel from various multi-discipline teams nationwide sprang into action and deployed to Puerto Rico to support the response and recovery operations, after three million citizens were left without power and thousands of homes destroyed.
One of those teams that has played a vital role in the mission is Task Force Power Restoration Real Estate team. At the focus of the power restoration mission, the real estate acquisition team has worked to acquire land for laydown yards, warehouses, office space, and storage facilities in Puerto Rico.
"The project managers contact us when they're moving into an area, then give us requirements on the space that they will need and we begin our research from there," said Brinda Hazard, TFPR realty specialist and volunteer from the USACE Alaska District. "Then we go out to conduct site visits at the locations and contact the land owner to see if we can lease the land."
On April 7, USACE announced that it will provide additional resources to further support emergency power restoration by increasing the value of an existing contract for PowerSecure, Inc. of Wake Forest, North Carolina.
At the height of the mission, the realty team acquired a vital area of approximately 42 acres at the Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla, once known as Ramey Air Force Base, to store substantial amounts of material needed for the power restoration mission.
With the extension came a need for relocation to make maximum contributions towards final emergency restoration, leading the USACE Aguadilla team to the Montaña area office in Caguas, Puerto Rico, one of the more affected areas of the island. A location and laydown yard that the real estate team were a driving force in acquiring.
"We are thinking outside the box and have been really fortunate because some of the municipalities have provided use of their land in accordance with the Stafford Act," said Victor Otero, TFPR real estate specialist and volunteer from USACE Galveston District.
Otero and the real estate acquisition team worked diligently to coordinate with key stakeholders such as the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, who owned nearly five acres of the land in Caguas, to obtain a right of entry for land to stage more than 50 PowerSecure utility trucks.
"Typically, real estate land leases with private land owners have ranged from $10,000 to $30,000 a month. When we coordinate rights of entries and memos of understanding with local municipalities, these price ranges go down to zero dollars," said Jess Cary, TFPR real estate specialist and Nashville District volunteer.
"These are huge wins and a critical part of supporting the mission to efficiently restore power to the people of Puerto Rico, while acting as a responsible steward of tax payer funds," Cary added.
The USACE TFPR team continue to work in a unified effort, along with the Puerto Rico Power Authority, FEMA and electric industry partners urgently restoring power and remains committed to completing final emergency restoration for the people of Puerto Rico.