From Community to Federal Government: A Closer Look at Coastal Areas in Puerto Rico

What will your planning recommendation be? Professor Maritza Barreto, a coastal geologist, started us of with this challenge.  There’s only one road to Loiza – Route 187 – and after seasonal swells people aren’t able to get in and out of the area because it gets damaged, flooded and covered by sand.  Hurricane Maria exacerbated the situation. A field trip with her guidance fueled our imagination by clearly pointing out the coastal risks that have been impacting access. Our first stop was a municipal beach near the entrance to Loiza.

At this stop, we learned how sand movement impacted planning options. It was clear that we needed to understand this phenomenon deeper.

Our second stop was at Kioskos where we sensed how sand movement that covered Route 187 also meant loss to small businesses.

The third stop was by a school which dramatized how critical infrastructure are impacted when there is no access to Route 187.

The fourth stop illustrated, among others, how road design could trap salt water and threaten the health of mangrove forest.

The final stop was in Juarez where erosion has already destroyed a road, a park and threatened beachfront homes.

It was clear from our questions that we were considering a few options (seasonal route, retreat etc). We ended up picking up ideas about community empowerment that planners can add to their tools. The local planning school engaged residents to become citizen scientists who know more about sand. We also reaffirmed that disaster response protocol and community leadership can make a difference. We were reminded that, as planners, we have to also think about the informal sectors, justice, and more.

After the Loiza tour, we were invited to the FEMA Joint Recovery Office in Puerto Rico (PR). FEMA officials were gracious enough to share time and information about the ongoing recovery operations. It was interesting to learn that for the first time, they are taking a ‘sector/system approach’ of recovery instead of an organizational approach. Each sector (EX: infrastructure, utilities) includes an entire range of FEMA operations to guide response/recovery. The purpose of this approach is to involve and entrust PR’s sectors to identify recovery needs, strategies, and plans. Meeting with FEMA informed us that FEMA is extremely interested in partnering with university students to develop case studies and thesis work.


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