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EDC Counting On Roosevelt Roads Staying Open, But Preparing Contingency Plan: Winning Bid For Master Plan Design To Be Selected In August


July 24, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The possibility that Naval Station Roosevelt Roads (NSRR) might close in six months has intensified the urgency at the Department of Economic Development & Commerce (EDC) to create new economic development strategies for Puerto Rico, particularly the eastern region.

The situation became critical recently when the U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 2658, a Department of Defense appropriations bill that included a provision ordering the NSRR’s shutdown and public sale six months after the bill becomes law. Although the Senate version of the bill didn’t include such a provision, the proposal will be considered by a conference committee of both houses when Congress reconvenes in August.

The problem fell right into the lap of Milton Segarra, who wears two hats as EDC secretary and Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. (Pridco) executive director.

"As an institution, we will make every effort to keep the base open," Segarra told CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. "In case this isn’t possible, an interagency task force is already working on a master plan to determine how best to develop NSRR’s land."

During a press conference in Ceiba last week, Segarra identified the members of the task force, which he will lead: Ceiba Mayor Gerardo Cruz Maldonado, Housing Secretary Ileana Echegoyen, Tourism Executive Director Jose Suarez, Commerce Development Administrator Antonio Sosa Pascual, Land Administrator Juan Vaquer, and Ports Authority Executive Director Miguel Soto Lacourt.

Naguabo Mayor Robert Baez Gonzalez isn’t on the task force even though the NSRR spans both Ceiba and Naguabo and the latter is one of the municipalities with the highest unemployment rates on the island. Other municipalities that will bear the brunt of the economic impact from NSRR’s shutdown are Fajardo, Luquillo, Humacao, and Rio Grande (CB July 17).

"We have asked three consulting firms to draft a preliminary report [for the NSRR’s economic development] in 30 days. They are Colliers International, CB Richard Ellis, and Grubb & Ellis. The final selection will be made in August and the one chosen will have to produce a final master plan within 90 days of the final selection," said Segarra.

"The winning bidder will work with local consultants. The project’s cost is estimated at $500,000 to $600,000," said Segarra. All three companies currently have contracts for EDC or Pridco economic development projects and have previous experience with base closings.

Segarra said the EDC had begun working on a master plan for the NSRR in April, when rumors about the base’s closing first emerged. However, the agency had been working under the assumption the closing would be ordered by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Base Realignment & Closure (BRAC) Commission, which is scheduled to announce the next round of base closings in 2005.

"We have to see whether the Navy goes or which operations will remain," said Segarra. "In any case, there are federal economic [assistance] resources that we have identified and could distribute immediately. We will also have to work on special permits in this area to create economic development projects quickly and responsibly.

"We can’t compare Ramey Air Force Base’s closure in the 1970s to the NSRR. Puerto Rico’s economy is very different now, with an able working class that is solid and has a good track record," continued Segarra. "We are a global competitor in manufacturing and biotechnology, and the top hotel chains are established in Puerto Rico."

Segarra identified three possibilities for the land at the NSRR: transferring the Muñiz Base from Carolina to Ceiba; transferring the maritime route from the main island of Puerto Rico to Vieques and Culebra from Fajardo to the base’s harbor; and developing a nautical tourism industry with marinas and other related businesses.

Asked about the possibility of using the NSRR’s sprawling 8,600 acres to develop a world-class transshipment port, Segarra said the administration is steadfast in its decision to develop Puerto Rico’s transshipment port in the southern municipality of Ponce.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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