CCLR Partnership Brings InterAgency Focus to Post-Hurricane Puerto Rico
Everyone in Puerto Rico wants a better quality of life for themselves and their children. For many, that includes more resilient infrastructure, continued cleanup, and reconstruction after the September 2017 hurricanes. Puerto Rico’s economic insolvency makes these matters all the more challenging as financial tools and knowhow can be as scarce as clean water. Almost five months after the climate disasters, hundreds of thousands of homes are still without basic utilities. To fill the void, the Center for Creative Land Recycling (CCLR), along with local and national partners, set out to create an action plan to answer critical questions about infrastructure financing, especially for the PR127 Corridor.
Petrochemical Corridor: Boom to bust
Forty-two sites along 3,500 acres of petrochemical-scarred lands define the PR127 Corridor of Guayanilla and Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, that in the early 1960s formed the world’s second largest petrochemical complex. Changing petroleum market dynamics shuttered most of the businesses in the early 1980s. Located on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Guayanilla and Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, today the area’s hulking rusting chimneys and pipe racks dominate the otherwise idyllic Caribbean shoreline.
The view doesn’t tell the entire story of the corridor. Winding along the corridor’s narrow industrial roads are strategically important energy producers, fuel importers and distribution centers. Two power plants generate more than 1,400 Megawatts of electricity, and imported gas and diesel are consumed across the island. Following the hurricanes, the collapse of the island’s energy grid and the subsequent reliance on petroleum to power thousands of electrical generators, the PR127 Corridor’s neglected infrastructure came square into focus. It became clear that the island’s economy and community wellbeing required hurricane-proof roads, water supplies, stormwater management, and power distribution.
Brownfield Area-wide Planning to the Rescue
Before the hurricanes, the corridor’s revitalization was also well underway. Since 2010, 1,800 acres along the corridor have qualified for Brownfields funds under the US EPA’s Area-wide Brownfields Planning and Coalition Assessment Grant programs. The Puerto Rico-based regional consortium, Desarrollo Integral del Sur, Inc. (DISUR) used these funds to develop a community supported reuse and implementation plan that envisions a future Eco-Industrial land use, replete with utility-scale photovoltaic utilities, resource recovery, and bio-economy innovation. As implementation of the reuse plan began, DISUR completed environmental characterization of 11 sites or approximately 1,000 acres. Shoring up area-wide infrastructure to attract future private investment continued to be an implementation goal.
Under this scenario, we began to ask the following questions:
- • How can Puerto Rico pay for more resilient infrastructure?
- • How can Puerto Rico Municipalities acquire derelict properties and brownfields?
- • How can resiliency and renewable power sources be factored into rebuilding the electric infrastructure in economically feasible ways?
Partnerships in Brownfield Development Finance
At the root of these questions are money and its sound use. To get answers, we turned to a cadre of development finance experts experienced in post-hurricane recovery, environmental law, and traditional financing techniques used in jurisdictions across the United States. Five leading professionals with the non-profit national association The Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA) joined us in Puerto Rico from January 30 to February 1 for three days of intensive discovery, a tour of the PR127 Corridor, and discovery meetings with dozens of officials from the Commonwealth and federal government at the offices of the Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC).
As development finance leaders, CDFA represents more than 450 public, private, and non-profit development entities. The visit was made possible through CDFA’s Brownfields Technical Assistance Program, funded by the U.S. EPA with the goal of providing financing recommendations for transforming brownfield sites.The results of CDFA’s work in Puerto Rico will be shared with the governor and DDEC. The information will be used to shape public policy and as a guide to future area-wide infrastructure financing in the corridor. We’ll also give municipal, state and federal officials an insiders’ view into creative ways to finance Brownfields and critical infrastructure projects on the island at the upcoming 4th Brownfields Development Summit, May 10, 2018.
Connecting Federal Agencies to Puerto Rico Brownfields
The January activity with the CDFA was the second InterAgency Work Group (IAWG) meeting in Puerto Rico and built on the success of the first one held November 15, 2017, where more than 50 representatives from federal and state agencies convened to offer-up specialized program information about technical assistance, federal grants and loans that can support infrastructure projects in Puerto Rico. The objective of the IAWGs is to establish at least 12 forums over the next 4 years, enabling state and federal agencies to provide suggestions and guidance to municipalities and other entities that require assistance and development implementation of projects of their interest.
The first two of these meetings focused on implementation strategies for the PR127 Corridor of Guayanilla-Peñuelas, whose redevelopment is a priority for DDEC Secretary Manuel Laboy. The IAWG’s are held in collaboration with the US EPA, Puerto Rico-based partners Desarrollo Integral del Sur, Inc. (DISUR) and Environment Development and Sustainability Inc. (EDS), a non-profit and woman-owned business, respectively. The Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce supports the meetings.
Connecting people to information and resources can be like breaching chasms. The IAWG model builds bridges between otherwise disconnected groups of bureaucrats, finance development experts and communities. The end game stabilizes communities with better infrastructure and economic resources, and in this case we hope this work ushers in a brighter future for Puerto Rico and its people.
Through the Center for Creative Land Recycling, David Southgate offers consulting and capacity building for brownfields impacted communities. These services are free for governmental and non-governmental organizations. Southgate has more than 20 years’ experience working in themes related to media access for marginalized communities, equitable development, environmental justice, citizen science with local, state and federal agencies, as well as NGS, emerging businesses and the communities they serve. He is an expert in external resources and management of federal funds, provoking environmental remedial actions along the PR127 Corridor of Guayanilla and Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, as well as the development of brownfields in Ponce. Southgate is a candidate for a Masters in Public Administration - Community Development at Rutgers University, Camden.
Reuse Master Plan for PR127 Corridor of Guayanilla and Peñuelas, Puerto Rico.
Aerial of PR 127 Corridor. Photo by Lizzie Herrera (Aerial photo courtesy of Aerofoto Internacional Puerto Rico)
CDFA Team gets the lay of the land with Margarita Mosquera (Puerto Rico DDEC) and David Southgate (DISUR)
The First Puerto Rico InterAgency Work Group, November 15, 2017.
Get Free Assistance for Your Municipality’s Brownfields and Community Development Project
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If you or your Municipality would like federal and state partner input for a Brownfields project for your community, please let us know. We’d like to organize an InterAgency Work Group for you, too. Contact CCLR’s Puerto Rico team: Desarollo Integral del Sur, Inc. (David Southgate, firstname.lastname@example.org), Environmental Development & Sustainability, Inc. Sonia Cosme (email@example.com)